Recent evidence suggests IVF birth risks are higher than we think

IVF birth risksCC: Kelly Sikkema at Unsplash

When you dedicate time to trying to conceive, discovering you’re battling infertility feels heartbreaking. IVF started out in 1973 in Australia. Since then, around 8-million babies have been born from the procedure. The most recent study into IVF birth risks is gaining lots of media attention. If this is a treatment you’re considering, it’s worth understanding what the research means.

What IVF birth risks did the study highlight?

The IVF birth risks discovered by the researchers included many of the events that contribute to maternal mortality. For example:

In their bid to investigate IVF birth risks the researchers compared outcomes for 11,500 women who received infertility treatment with 47,500 who didn’t. Interestingly, other forms of infertility treatment didn’t have the same outcomes.

Although it’s tempting to interpret this as meaning that IVF is particularly risky, that may not be the case. Additionally, it’s worth noting that although the media is reporting the data with phrases such as “A 40% increased risk,” the numbers are still small. Fewer than 1% of women who have the treatment will experience the IVF birth risks the study highlighted.

Why IVF and not other forms of infertility treatment?

The reasons for IVF birth risks being so high may lie with the reasons for couples needing this treatment. For example, women over the age of 35 fall into the high-risk pregnancy category anyway. Age is one of the commonest reasons for needing IVF.

Another reason is uterine fibroids. There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that uterine fibroids increase a woman’s risk of PPH, placental abruption, and malpresentation. Placental abruption can result in near-fatal events following delivery and may lead to an ICU stay. Similarly, malpresentation is linked to obstructed birth, which is also a major contributor to maternal mortality.

There’s a lot of overlap between IVF birth risks and some of the risk factors a typical IVF candidate may already have. IVF is also more likely to result in a multiples pregnancy, which comes with risks of its own. But, does all this mean the study’s content is useless?

How can we look at this study?

Although there’s been a resurgence toward natural birth in recent years, childbirth is inherently risky. The study does highlight that IVF birth risks exist and it comes with some impressive numbers. However, that doesn’t mean that choosing IVF pushes women into a high-risk category.

Instead, it could mean that the risks were already there. They were possibly contributing to each woman’s infertility struggles. Ideally, the study’s findings on IVF birth risks could be used to help clinicians deliver better care to women who fall into those categories. Ultimately, having more evidence for what causes poor birth outcomes is useful for those who deliver care to mothers and babies.

Should these IVF birth risks leave women feeling concerned?

If IVF is your infertility treatment of choice and you’re worried about what the study means, it’s worth talking to your fertility specialist. Infertility treatment is a time that’s fraught with worry. The doctors delivering your care will hopefully be able to discuss the numbers with you and deliver the assurance you need.

Finally, you should always remember that the screening processes for receiving IVF are vigorous. If someone has agreed to provide you with the treatment, you’re most likely in safe hands.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.