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Researchers say they found no significant difference in the way IVF-conceived children and other kids develop. Tom Werner/Getty Images
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a commonly used method for conception.
  • Scientists wanted to find out if IVF could lead to an increased risk of mental or physical disorders.
  • Initial findings indicate that IVF-conceived children do not have any developmental or educational disadvantages.

Deciding to raise a child is perhaps the most consequential decision a person can make.

A family can take any number of forms and the route to starting or expanding a family is no different. For a variety of reasons, some people may choose to conceive using in vitro fertilization (IVF).

IVF is the most commonly used method of assisted reproductive technology and over the past decade its use has more than doubled in the United States. IVF births now account for about 2% of births annually.

However, the long-term outcomes for children conceived via IVF have not been thoroughly studied.

For this reason, researchers wanted to find out if IVF can lead to an increased risk of various disorders or delays. The results of their study were published today in the journal PLOS Medicine.

So what did the researchers find and what do experts have to say about it?

This study was conducted in Australia and compared children who were conceived via IVF to those who were conceived spontaneously.

All children included in the study were singletons (carried individually, as opposed to multiple births) born between 2005 and 2014. Multiple pregnancy is a common complication of IVF.

The children were split into two age groups.

The first group included 4,697 children conceived via IVF and 168,503 controls, all ages 4 to 6. They were compared using six categories:

  • physical health and wellbeing
  • social competence
  • emotional maturity
  • language and cognitive skills
  • communication skills
  • general knowledge

The second group included 8,976 children conceived via IVF and 333,335 controls, all ages 7 to 9. They were compared using five different categories with a greater focus on education, which included:

  • grammar and punctuation
  • reading
  • writing
  • spelling
  • numeracy

The researchers adjusted the data to account for factors such as socioeconomic status and having a language background that wasn’t limited to English.

After analyzing the results, researchers found no difference developmentally or related to educational outcomes in either group of children.

While this research helps to fill in some gaps in what we know about IVF, it does run up against some limitations.

Dr. Jeff Peipert, an OBGYN at Indiana University Health, told Healthline that “it is important to note that this group of children studied was restricted to children attending school.”

“There is a small percentage of children with a disability significant enough to not attend a mainstream school that are not included in this analysis,” said Peipert.

This could skew the results of the study, but to what degree is unknown until follow-up studies are completed.

“[This study] confirms what most providers believe: that IVF is safe and singleton neonates conceived with IVF have similar overall outcomes to those conceived spontaneously,” said Dr. Margareta D. Pisarska, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist as well as the director of the Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Center at Cedars-Sinai in California.

“Data continues to emerge that any risks related to IVF are likely due to the underlying infertility that is being treated. These risks overall are small,” Pisarska told Healthline.

Dr. Kecia Gaither, MPH, double board-certified OB/GYN and maternal fetal medicine, and the director of Perinatal Services/Maternal Fetal Medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx, told Healthline that “in vitro fertilization by definition involves a procedure whereby eggs are removed from a woman’s body, then combined with sperm outside of the body to form an embryo, which is placed back into the uterus.”

“Patients with IVF pregnancies, particularly if multiples, are deemed high risk, and as such should be under the care of a maternal fetal medicine specialist, have fetal cardiovascular evaluation, interval growth scans, and antenatal testing during the course of the pregnancy,” said Gaither.

The level of risk will vary from one person to the next as will an individual’s comfort level with that risk.

“Overall, IVF is safe and a treatment option for individuals and couples who want to build their families but may have difficulty due to their underlying infertility, or are looking at options for fertility preservation,” said Pisarska.

It’s also important to keep in mind that IVF is not the only assisted reproductive technology available, even if it is the most popular.

“IVF is only one type of infertility therapy. Many couples who struggle to conceive will not need IVF. It is a costly treatment (typically more than $10,000 per cycle) and is not for everyone. Your clinician can guide you best in terms of how to manage difficulty conceiving,” said Peipert.