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Australia reports drop in multiple births as more women opt for single embryo transfer

28 September 2009
Appeared in BioNews 527

A report published on 24 September 2009 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare ('the Institute') has indicated that although an increasing number of women are turning to assisted reproductive technologies (ART) to assist with pregnancy, the number of multiple births is decreasing.

The Institute's statistics show that over the last five years, the use of ART has increased by approximately ten per cent each year. Now, around 3.1 per cent of all children born in Australia are a result of ART, such as IVF.

One of the most common risks associated with ART is that of multiple births. Improvement in single embryo transfer (SET) technology and a willingness between doctors and patients to implant a single embryo is linked to statistics indicating a reduction in multiple births. The number of multiple births as a result of ART has fallen from 19 per cent in 2003 to ten per cent in 2007. Simultaneously, the use of SET has increased from 32 per cent in 2003 to 64 per cent in 2007, as pointed out by Professor Peter Illingworth, President of the Fertility Society of Australia. Meanwhile, according to Associate Professor Elizabeth Sullivan of the Institute's National Perinatal Statistics Unit, clinical pregnancy rates have remained steady at around 22 per cent since 2002.

Professor Sullivan has commented that 'The decline in multiple births corresponds with an improvement in overall pregnancy and baby outcomes because multiple births increase the health risk for both mothers and babies'. This view has been corroborated by Professor Illingworth, who has said in reference to SET that 'it means that the biggest complication which many people associate with fertility treatment, that of multiple pregnancies, is gradually disappearing'. Multiple births are known to increase chances of premature delivery and low birth weight.

Australia has one of the highest SET usage rates internationally. 'Running at a multiple pregnancy rate of only 10 per cent is one of the lowest possible pregnancy rates in the world from IVF,' says Professor Illingworth.

Whilst the Institute and Fertility Society of Australia have focussed on the positive impact of ART, the report brought attention to the increased use ART which has attracted some negative commentary. Some have expressed the view that women are leaving the task of starting a family too late in order to focus on their careers first, thus leading to an increased risk of infertility. Professor Illingworth spoke out against these views saying, 'I find women just haven't had the opportunity to find the right partner…Very few have made the choice [to put their careers first]'.

Careers not to blame for IVF |  25 September 2009
IVF more common, fewer twins
Science Alert |  25 September 2009
More IVF babies but fewer multiple births
ABC News |  25 September 2009
'More IVF babies but less multiple births'
The Australian |  24 September 2009
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