Everyone knows about “Octomom” and her octuplets born after in-vitro fertilization (IVF). That was an extreme case, but multiple births resulting from unregulated artificial reproductive technologies have skyrocketed over the last decade. The increased rate of twins, triplets and even higher multiples are due to in-vitro treatments and those women and infants are at much higher risk of pregnancy complications, premature birth and long term health problems.
New research, published in theJournal of Pediatrics, looked at admissions at just one hospital in Montreal, Quebec and found multiple embryo transfers was responsible for a significant proportion of admissions to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). These infants were born severely preterm. Six babies died and 5 developed severe intraventricular hemorrhage or bronchopulmonary dysplasia. The researchers extrapolated their data to the entire country of Canada and said that a universal single-embryo transfer policy would have prevented 840 NICU admissions, 40 deaths and 42,488 days in the NICU. The cost was $40 million annually.
There are currently no regulations in the United States that limit a fertility clinic from implanting numerous embryos into a woman’s womb. The United Kingdom, France, Australia and Germany have legislation with limits to the maximum number of embryos to be transferred. In the USA we believe the decision about how many embryos to implant should be left to the clinical judgment of doctors. Because of the expense and emotions involved with infertility treatment, couples want to maximize their chances of getting a viable pregnancy…even if it means they will have twins or triplets.
For some patients, the chances are slim that they will get pregnant, despite the best technology. There is a wide range between women and age is not the only factor. One 40 year old is not the same as another 40 year old and the embryo quality can vary widely. Now that technology allows doctors to grow the embryo in the lab for 5 days, instead of the usual three days, higher quality embryos can be selected.
It is hard to believe that 100 years ago most doctors didn’t even really understand “woman’s issues”. Most women had no knowledge of their bodies and birth was a random event…difficult to prevent and difficult to influence. The changes have been rapid and amazing and we are learning how to be successful without causing harm from our technology.
*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*