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Children Born Through IVF More Advanced

July 27, 2011

Research suggests children who were conceived through infertility treatment (IVF) start school with speech skills up to eight months more advanced than those born after unplanned pregnancies.

A study found that children whose parents did not intend to have a baby lagged five months behind planned babies at age five, and further behind those born after IVF.

Experts say the findings are just down to the developmental gap between rich and poor in Britain.  The differences in scores “almost entirely disappear” when family background is taken into account.

The researchers’ paper says:  “Unadjusted analyses show that children born after unplanned pregnancy score poorly in cognitive tests compared with their planned counterparts, while children conceived after assisted reproduction do significantly better in tests of verbal ability.

“These differences are almost entirely explained by confounding by socioeconomic factors, providing further evidence of the influence of socioeconomic inequalities on the lives of children in the UK. To help children achieve their full potential, policy makers should continue to target social inequalities.”

Dorothy Bishop, Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology at the University of Oxford said in a press release: “This study shows how important it is to take social factors into account when looking at child outcomes. Children from unplanned pregnancies have lower scores on cognitive tests than those from planned pregnancies, but they are also much more likely to come from single parent, low income households. Once this is taken into account, there is no impact of an unplanned pregnancy on children’s development.”

Dr. Claire Carson, a researcher at the University of Oxford’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, analyzed data on 12,136 children included in the Millennium Cohort Study.

Forty-one percent were born following an unplanned pregnancy, with 15 percent of their mothers admitting they felt unhappy or ambivalent about being pregnant.

Another 53 percent of the pregnancies had been planned and led to conception within a year, while 4 percent of couples conceived after over a year of trying.  A little over 2 percent had babies after ovulation inducing drugs or assisted reproduction.

The researchers found while using the standard British Ability Scales to test verbal ability at age five that the unplanned children had scores equivalent to a “developmental delay of more than five months” compared with planned ones.

The planned children lagged behind those born after IVF treatment by “three or four months.”

However, these differences were explained by the “generally advantageous socioeconomic position” enjoyed by those born after fertility treatment.

Those born after unplanned pregnancies were more likely to have poor, young or less educated mothers.  They were also more likely to have less access to “books, puzzles, trips to library.”

The study was published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday.

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