Fertility technology improves by leaps and bounds every year. In 2014 alone, we saw the introduction of three-parent IVF and the first successful birth from a womb transplant. The bottom line? More people are able to become parents. And a new study found that over the last two decades, more and more of them are able to stay parents.
The study, published in the journal Human Reproduction , found that the health of babies born from assisted reproductive technology (ART) has been improving for the last 20 years. Stillborn rates are down from 0.6 percent to 0.3 percent. And SIDS rates are down too — deaths within the first year fell from 1 percent to 0.3 percent. For ART twins, the rate decreases are even more dramatic.
"These findings show convincingly that, while there has been a considerable increase in assisted reproduction cycles over the past 20 years, this has been accompanied by a significant improvement in health outcomes for these babies, particularly for singleton babies," says study author Dr. Anna-Karina Aaris Henningsen, from the Fertility Clinic at the Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen. "The most important reason is the dramatic decline in multiple births due to policies of choosing to transfer only one embryo at a time."
The technology surrounding single embryo transfer is still being improved; it's difficult to ensure that just one embryo will take. But Henningsen maintains that it's the most important advancement for the health of ART babies. "Transferring several embryos in one cycle, even if it results in only a single baby, can still have a negative impact on the overall neonatal outcomes of singletons," she says.
"By transferring only a single embryo, you not only avoid multiple births and all the health problems for the babies and mothers associated with these, but it also results in healthier ART singletons because there are fewer instances of 'vanishing twins' or procedures to reduce the number fetuses developing after successful implantation of several in the mother's womb."
Henningsen also credits better hormonal medications, improved clinical skills of doctors, stronger labs and milder ovarian stimulation for the improvement in ART. And improvements aren't just measured by lower mortality rates; fewer ART babies are born preterm or with low birth rates.
To conduct the study, researchers analyzed over 92,000 children in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden born with the help of reproductive technology betweeen 1988 and 2007. They compared their information with much larger control groups of spontaneously conceived children from the four countries.