November 18, 2008

Birth defects, fertility techniques linked

Infants conceived using fertility clinic techniques are more likely to have certain birth defects than infants conceived naturally, a U.S. study indicates.

The findings applied to single births only and included heart problems, cleft lip or palate, and abnormalities in the esophagus or rectum, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The conditions are rare, generally occurring no more than once in 700 births, so the risk was still low even with fertility treatments, the study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta indicated.

The procedures that increased the risk were techniques, such as in vitro fertilization, that require working with sperm and eggs outside of the body, researchers said. The study did not include women who only took fertility drugs.

I think it is important for couples to consider the fact that there may be a risk for birth defects, said Jennita Reefhuis, a CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the study.

Dr. Alan R. Fleischman, March of Dimes vice president and medical director, said Reefhuis's work was confirmatory of the direction we have been concerned about, an increase in some structural birth defects in babies born with assisted reproductive techniques compared to those born without such. And yet the numbers are still small, the risks are low.