Researchers find decline in birth defects seen in ART babies

For some women, getting pregnant may not be that simple. Some couples repeatedly try to conceive but just can't get a sperm to successfully penetrate an egg. Over the years, science has evolved to allow specialists to assist individuals who want to have a biological family. One popular method is assisted-reproductive techniques (ART).

ART gives women options

Through ART, scientists can remove eggs from a woman's ovaries and combine them with a man's sperm in a petri dish outside the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Once fertilization occurs, the eggs can then be transplanted back into the female's uterus or donated. For women who are infertile, this is a viable option and can help them achieve pregnancy, which is something their body cannot do naturally.

However, in the past, one of the drawbacks to the procedure is that ART has been associated with an increased risk of birth defects. For instance, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last May discussed how individuals who sought ART had a 8.3 percent chance of their baby developing a birth defect, as compared to a 5.8 percent risk when conceiving naturally. Despite these results, new findings indicate that, although such an increased likelihood exists, major birth defects have been diagnosed less frequently within the past 10 years than when specialists first began conducting ART, Reuters reported. 

Scientists have improved the procedure

Australian researchers obtained data from approximately 207,000 births, more than 1,300 of which were the result of in vitro fertilization - an ART procedure - between 1994 and 2002. They found that 11 percent of babies born between 1994 and 1998 had a birth defect, as compared to 7.5 percent of those delivered between 1998 and 2002. The study's investigators believe that this may be a result of how ART has evolved. Now, the procedure can be done with lower doses of medications, shorter stimulation periods and a fewer number of embryos transferred.

Some common birth defects seen include cleft lip, hip dysplasia and malformations of the heart, genitals and the abdominal wall.

"Whilst our study does still show that babies born using ART remain at a higher risk of birth defects, couples seeking ART treatment can be reassured that the vast majority of ART infants are born healthy and do not have a birth defect," said lead researcher Michele Hansen, as quoted by Reuters.