We were delighted to read that the results of a new study analysing the rates of stillbirths and premature deliveries, in both naturally conceived children and those conceived through some form of fertility treatment, revealed evidence of safer fertility treatments.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Copenhagen, showed that there is now virtually no difference in the level of stillbirth or premature birth risk between babies born as a result of natural conception, and those born through fertility treatment.
The analysis compared 92,000 babies born (as a result of fertility treatment) between 1988 and 2007 with 500,000 children who were born during the same period but were conceived naturally. It is the largest ever study to have looked into the health of babies born through fertility treatment.
The improved safety of the fertility treatments used to help the women conceive is largely down to new regulations limiting the number of embryos that can be transferred into the mother-to-be. This limit, which complies with Human Fertilisation & Embryo Authority (HFEA) guidelines on the number of embryos transferred, reduces the number of potentially dangerous multiple births, which can cause harm to both mother and baby.* Other developments in the freezing process and growth and monitoring of embryos have also contributed to the increased safety of all treatments.
The risk of premature births for single IVF babies has gone down from 12.5% (during the late 1980s and 1990s) to around 8%, while the risk of having preterm IVF twins has reduced from 50% to 47%. Those figures may not sound as impressive as you would expect them to, but if that rate of improvement continues over the next 20 years, then by 2035 preterm births rates may actually be lower for IVF babies than for those conceived naturally.
The risk of stillborn births for babies conceived through some form of fertility treatment has already dropped to the same level as it is for babies conceived naturally (0.3%).
We welcome all research into the safety of fertility treatments and believe that all UK centres and clinics should operate at the same high standard that we do. Fertility treatments such as IVF are often the subject of intense media scrutiny, largely because they are such new sciences compared to other more established treatments and procedures (Louise Brown, the first IVF baby, was born in 1978).
But, given the rate of progression and advancement in the safety, accuracy and best practice of all fertility treatments, it is not inconceivable to suggest that, within the next 10 to 20 years, births through fertility treatments may become statistically safer than births resulting from natural conception.
*We pioneered the procedure of blastocyst transfer and our programme is one of the largest and most respected in the UK. The process increases your chances of achieving a healthy singleton pregnancy and reduces the incidence of multiple births.