By Meg Jalsevac

  OTTAWA, February 9, 2007 ( – A new study has provided further confirmation that babies conceived through fertility treatments are at a higher risk of having a birth defect than children who are conceived naturally. 

  The study was carried out by a medical team assembled in Ottawa, Ontario and is the largest of its kind to date.  The study monitored 61,208 births in total of which 1,394 were of babies conceived through fertility treatments.  The researchers took into account in their calculations the variable factors of age of the mother, sex of the child, whether the mother smoked and other relevant issues.

  The final results of the study are to be presented at today’s meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in San Francisco.

  Some doctors assure women, even after looking at the facts of the study, that, while the risk of a birth defect is greater with a child that is conceived through artificial means, the risk is so minimal that it should not dissuade parents from choosing technological methods of conception.  Dr. Mark Walker of the University of Ottawa and one of the study’s leaders said, “What’s important and reassuring is that the absolute risks are still low.”

  However, the results of the recent study seem to portray a more alarming message.  According to the study, nearly 3 percent of babies conceived through fertility treatments had a birth defect while just under 2 percent of babies conceived naturally were reported to have a birth defect. Taking into account the relatively low number of children conceived through artificial means, that percentage translates into a 58 percent overall greater risk of a birth defect in artificially conceived children. 

  The study’s findings also showed that the more high-tech and complex the fertility treatment – the more likely it was that the child conceived would have a birth defect.  Babies conceived through IVF had the highest rate of birth defects compared to a much lower rate for babies, for example, conceived with the assistance of medication to trigger a mother’s ovaries to produce eggs.

  The most common defect found in artificially conceived children was in the gastrointestinal region and varied from defects in the structure of the abdominal wall to internal organs developing in the wrong place.  Artificially conceived children were 9 times more likely to suffer such problems – which translates into 1 in 200 births versus 6 per 10,000 for children conceived naturally.

  Cardiovascular defects were twice as high in artificially conceived babies – 90 per 10,000 versus 40 per 10,000 in naturally conceived children.  Malformed limbs were slightly more common in artificially conceived children while problems such as spina bifida and a cleft palate had a similar rate of occurrence. 

  The researchers did mention in their study that such a high rate of malformations could also be caused by genetic and parental health factors which could be the underlying reason for the parents experiencing fertility problems and needing to seek fertility treatment in the first place.

  To date, more than 1 million babies have been conceived through artificial means world wide and the technological methods of conception vary from in vitro fertilization (IVF), artificial insemination and intracytoplasmic sperm injection, in which a sperm is selected and forced into the ovum with a needle.

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