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Fertility treatments do not increase risk of developmental delay

11 January 2016
Appeared in BioNews 834

Children conceived using IVF and other fertility treatments are at no greater risk of developmental delays than children conceived naturally, according to a large US study led by the National Institutes of Health.

The study examined the developmental progress of children born in New York State between 2008 and 2010. The team compared development assessment scores from 1830 children conceived using fertility treatments, including IVF, ICSI, fertility drugs and artificial insemination, with those from over 4000 children who were conceived naturally.

The results, published in JAMA Pediatrics, demonstrated that the children in both groups had similar developmental scores through to the age of three.

'When we began our study there was little research on the potential effects of conception via fertility treatments on US children,' said study lead author Dr Edwina Yeung, investigator at the Eunice Kennedy National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 'Our results provide reassurance to the thousands of couples who have relied on these treatments to establish their families.'

The results did indicate, however, that children conceived using assisted reproductive technologies, such as IVF, showed signs of slower development, but the researchers explained this difference by the higher incidence of twins in the fertility treatment group.

Dr Yeung explained that twins are often born prematurely and this increases the risk of developmental problems. When naturally conceived twins were compared with twins conceived after IVF there was no difference in the children's development.

The children's developmental progress was tested at various intervals up to the age of three using the Ages and Stages questionnaire, which examines development in five main areas: fine motor skills; gross motor skills; communication; personal and social functioning; and problem-solving ability.

However, since it is not possible to identify some developmental delays by the age of three, the study authors will continue to evaluate the children's progress up to eight years of age.

NHS Choices points out that the study design meant that the researchers were unable to study cause and effect, and so could not rule out a link between IVF and developmental delays in children, but the results indicate there is no convincing evidence to suggest such a link exists.

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