Children conceived via infertility treatments are no more likely to have a developmental delay than children conceived without such treatments, according to a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the New York State Department of Health and other institutions. The findings, published online in JAMA Pediatrics, may help to allay longstanding concerns that conception after infertility treatment could affect the embryo at a sensitive stage and result in lifelong disability.
Developmental delay is defined as a condition which represents a significant delay in the process of development. It does not refer to a condition in which the child is slightly or momentarily lagging in development. Developmental delay refers only to children between the ages of 0 and 8 years. Where the developmental delay persists beyond 8 years of age, the reason(s) is usually known. If a child is temporarily lagging behind, that is not called developmental delay. Delay can occur in one or many areas - for example, gross or fine motor, language, social, or thinking skills.
The authors found no differences in developmental assessment scores of more than 1,800 children born to women who became pregnant after receiving infertility treatment and those of more than 4,000 children born to women who did not undergo such treatment.
"When we began our study, there was little research on the potential effects of conception via fertility treatments on U.S. children," said Edwina Yeung, Ph.D., an investigator in the Division of Intramural Population Health Research at NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). "Our results provide reassurance to the thousands of couples who have relied on these treatments to establish their families."
Also taking part in the study were researchers from the University at Albany, New York; the New York State Department of Health, also in Albany; and CapitalCare Pediatrics in Troy, New York. The Upstate KIDS study enrolled infants born to women in New York State (except for New York City) from 2008 to 2010. Parents of infants whose birth certificates indicated infertility treatment were invited to enroll their children in the study, as were all parents of twins and other multiples. The researchers also recruited roughly three times as many singletons not conceived via infertility treatment. Four months after giving birth, the mothers indicated on a questionnaire the type of infertility treatment they received:
Assisted reproductive technology (ART), including:
Parents also completed a questionnaire to screen children for developmental disabilities at numerous intervals throughout their children's first three years of life: at 4-6, 8, 12, 18, 24 and 36 months of age. The questionnaire covered five main developmental areas, or domains: fine motor skills, gross motor skills, communication, personal and social functioning, and problem solving ability. Overall, children conceived via fertility treatments scored similarly to other children on the five areas covered in the developmental assessments.
When the researchers considered only children conceived through ART, they found that they were at increased risk for failing any one of the five domains, with the greatest likelihood of failing the personal-social and problem solving domains.
However, twins were more likely to fail a domain than were singletons. So, when the researchers compensated for the greater percentage of twins in the ART group than in the non-treatment group (34 percent vs. 19 percent), they found no significant difference between the ART group and the non-treatment group in failing any of the 5 domains.
Of the children diagnosed with a disability at 3-4 years old, no significant difference was found between the treatment and non-treatment groups: 13 percent, compared to 18 percent.
Because it is not always possible to diagnose some forms of developmental disability by 3 years of age, the study authors will continue to evaluate the children periodically until they reach 8 years of age.
Yeung EH, Sundaram R, Bell EM, Druschel C, Kus C, Ghassabian A, Bello S, Yunlong X, and Louis GB. Examining Infertility Treatment and Early Childhood Development in the Upstate KIDS Study. JAMA Pediatrics 2016 (170). Doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.4164.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD):
The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit the Institute's website at www.nichd.nih.gov
National Institutes of Health (NIH):
NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov
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