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Do IVF babies grow up healthy?

One of the nagging questions hanging over modern infertility treatments is whether IVF babies grow up as healthy as babies conceived the old-fashioned way. A new study indicates that for the most part they seem to, although it does raise a couple of concerns.

Doctors make babies through IVF-- in-vitro fertilization-- by fertilizing a woman's egg with a man's sperm in the laboratory and then placing the resulting embryo into the womb. Although some studies have suggested such babies may be slightly more prone to birth defects than babies conceived naturally, most have found no signs of any serious concerns. But there hasn't really been much research following these children into adulthood.

In the new study-- the first of its kind-- researchers at the Eastern Virginia Medical School's Jones Institute of Reproductive Medicine, which produced the first U.S. IVF baby in 1981, contacted the first 417 patients treated at the clinic and asked if they could survey the 560 offspring that were conceived. The researchers received responses from 173 of the children, who were now between the ages of 18 and 26.

Compared with other young adults in that age group, those conceived through IVF were found to be "healthy and well adjusted with no prevalence of increased susceptibility to chronic diseases," such as cancer or heart disease, Sergio Oehninger and his colleagues reported in a paper published online by the journal Fertility and Sterility.

The offspring did, however, report, unusually high levels of depression and binge drinking among women and much higher levels of attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADD/ADHD), the researchers found.

Oehninger and other experts say it's hard to know how to interpret those findings, though. A variety of factors could have skewed the results, including the fact that because the researchers had no control over who responded to the survey it's hard to know if those that did are truly representative. Also, people who did IVF, especially in the beginning, tended to be more affluent then the general population, so it could be their offspring were just diagnosed with those conditions more frequently.

The researchers do speculate in the paper, though, that the high level of stress that prospective parents undergoing IVF tend to experience could potentially increase the risk for behavioral problems. So the findings warrant follow-up research to make sure there isn't something real here, they say.

By Rob Stein  |  February 17, 2010; 8:41 AM ET
Categories:  Cardiovascular Health , Chronic Conditions , Mental Health , Motherhood , Psychology , Women's Health  
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Comments

Irresponsible post. The data did not support your preconceived premise, but you plowed ahead with it anyway including a misleading headline.

Posted by: barbnc | February 17, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

This article does not make the point that many, if not most, IVF babies are born to women in their mid 30's and older. Regular old-fasionedly conceived babies born to women in that age cohort also have higher incidence for health/mental problems in their offspring. Missing that point makes the article irresponsible. We need to compare apples to apples (like--what does the comparison of IVF babies born to women in their teens, 20's, and early 30's reveal?)

Science should be scientific and fair, don't you think? So should articles about science.

Posted by: wwIIbaby | February 17, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

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