February 2016

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Infertility Treatments and Children’s Development

A growing number of would-be parents are turning to infertility treatments to help them have a baby. A new study found no evidence that these treatments cause any developmental delays. The findings may offer some relief to parents concerned about the long-term health risks of infertility therapies.

Infertility can be treated in many ways. Some complex treatments are called assisted reproductive technologies (ART). ART approaches include in vitro fertilization (in which an egg is fertilized in a lab dish) and frozen embryo transfer (in which a previously frozen embryo is implanted in the uterus).

NIH researchers and their colleagues investigated the effects of ART on children’s development. They studied more than 5,800 newborns. Over 1,800 were conceived using infertility treatment, and more than 2,000 were twins.

Parents completed a series of questionnaires until their children were 3 years old. The questions covered 5 developmental areas: fine movement skills, large movement skills, communication, personal and social functioning, and problem-solving ability.

Overall, kids conceived through ART were more likely to fail one of the areas. But twins were more likely to fail than kids born singly, regardless of the conception approach. When the researchers accounted for the higher percentage of twins in the ART group, they found no effect from ART on kids’ development.

Similarly, ART didn’t affect whether children were referred for evaluation by developmental specialists.

“When we began our study, there was little research on the potential effects of conception via fertility treatments on U.S. children,” says lead author Dr. Edwina Yeung of NIH. “Our results provide reassurance to the thousands of couples who have relied on these treatments to establish their families.”  The researchers will continue to evaluate the children until they reach 8 years of age.