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Birth problems 'twice as likely' to hit IVF babies

SERIOUS birth problems are twice as likely to affect IVF babies than those conceived naturally, new research shows.

A study of hundreds of thousands of births looked at the risk of stillbirth, low birth weight, premature birth and infant death.

Traditional IVF, involving fertilisation in a glass dish and the injection of sperm directly into eggs increased the chances of complications, the Australian research found.

Dr John Waterstone, who runs Cork Fertility Centre and is vice president of the Irish Fertility Society (IFS), said "there's always been slight concerns over fertility treatments."

His explanation is simple: "People who find it difficult to get pregnant naturally may be inherently at higher risk of having a baby with a birth abnormality."

His stance was echoed by Graham Coull, laboratory director at Sims IVF, Ireland's biggest fertility clinic.

He also noted that the Australians classify complications differently than Europeans.

"For example, a baby born with webbed toes or fingers that's operated on, that procedure will be classified as major in Australia but it would be considered minor here," he said.

Scientists from the University of Adelaide studied 17 years of data from more than 300,000 births, of which 4,300 were the result of assisted reproduction.

"Compared with spontaneous conceptions in couples with no record of infertility, singleton babies from assisted conception were almost twice as likely to be stillborn, almost three times as likely to have very low birth weight and twice as likely to die within the first 28 days of birth," said Prof Michael Davies, from the University of Adelaide's Robinson Institute.

The study also looked at outcomes for women who found it hard to get pregnant but never received fertility treatment.

The study found their chances of experiencing complications were much higher than average.

"This may be due to the underlying medical conditions related to their infertility, or the use of fertility medications or therapies that are not recorded," said Prof Davies.