Children conceived by means of fertility treatments do not appear to face any special risk of delays in their early development, a study suggests.
Children born as a result of assisted reproductive technology develop during early childhood, up to the age of 3, at the same rate as other children, researchers say.
The study should ease long-standing concerns that children conceived through in vitro fertilization or other fertility treatments might face developmental problems.
Developmental assessment scores of more than 1,800 children born to women who became pregnant after receiving infertility treatments and those of more than 4,000 children born to women not undergoing such treatment showed no differences, the study appearing in the journal JAMA reported.
"When we began our study, there was little research on the potential effects of conception via fertility treatments on U.S. children," says researcher Edwina Yeung at the National Institutes of Health's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "Our results provide reassurance to the thousands of couples who have relied on these treatments to establish their families."
While it is becoming more common for some women to undergo infertility treatments of one sort or another, just 1 to 2 percent of U.S. births are conceived with assisted reproductive technology, Yeung points out. Those ART technologies in the study included in vitro fertilization, when fertilization takes place in a lab dish after eggs and sperm are taken from the couple; frozen embryo transfer; assisted hatching, the placement of a microscopic hole in the protein covering of the embryo; gamete intrafallopian transfer, when sperm and egg are mixed before they are placed in the fallopian tube; zygote intrafallopian transfer, when a fertilized egg (zygote) is placed into the fallopian tube; ovulation induction; and intrauterine insemination, when sperm is placed directly in the uterus via a narrow tube.
Concerns about possible effects of infertility treatments on child development are common among parents consider such options, experts in the field say.
"I hear these questions all the time," says Dr. Norbert Gleicher at the Center for Human Reproduction in New York City.
The issue is complicated by other factors that make it difficult for researchers to study, he notes.
"Patients with infertility are often older, and may have medical conditions," he says. "You have to be able to differentiate those potential effects from any effects of the fertility treatment, per se."
While some developmental issues such as autism usually don't manifest themselves as early as age 3, Yeung and her study co-authors say they will follow the study group of children through age 8.
In the meantime, Yeung says, the study's findings should be welcome news for many couples considered treatment options.
"This is a feel-good message of really just reassuring couples who are considering infertility treatment," she says.