IVF twins face health hurdles

A greater risk of serious illness or death for twins conceived through fertility treatment.

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A new study suggests that twins conceived through IVF (in vitro fertilisation) have an increased risk of serious illness or dying in their first three years of life, reports the Times.

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On average, IVF twins stay in hospital four days longer after birth, and are two-thirds more likely to head to intensive care, too. Sadly, they’re twice as likely to die just before or just after birth. The researchers, from Oxford University and Australia’s University of Western Australia, aren’t sure why this is the case.

Between 20%-30% of births resulting from fertility treatment are twins. For natural conceptions, the rate of twins is just 1%. With IVF, usually two or more embryos are implanted in the womb, so couples are more likely to have non-identical twins.

Couples having fertility treatment need to be aware of the risks, said the researchers. They advised couples to think about “single-embryo transfer.” This is where just one embryo at a time is implanted in the womb. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has warned of the risks of multiple pregnancies – for both mum and babies. It has urged clinics to only use one embryo for each cycle of fertility treatment.

For multiple births, the risks to mum include heavy bleeding, miscarriage, pre-eclampsia and diabetes. For the babies, there’s an increased likelihood of being born underweight or prematurely, and to suffer breathing problems or defects like cerebral palsy.

The underlying causes of infertility may have increased the risks of certain health problems, researcher Michele Hansen said. Parents who had been trying to conceive for a long time might also have been more likely to take their babies to hospital at the first sign of a minor health problem, too.

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