Health risks of fertility treatments

Like any medical procedure, there are risks to fertility treatments. Understanding the risks, and taking steps to prevent problems can increase your chances of a having a good experience.

Risks of fertility treatments

Medical procedures

Most patients who get fertility treatments don’t have serious medical problems. But that doesn't mean these treatments are risk free. Any medical procedure carries a small risk of side effects or complications. Before going ahead, you should talk to your doctor or specialist about possible risks.

Drugs

There are also risks to taking the drugs that are used in fertility treatments. Drug reactions can be mild, causing headaches or flushing. But they can also be dangerous, like Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome (a reaction to certain drugs that stimulate egg production). In some cases, people with this condition may need to be hospitalized. While this condition is rare, it can be life threatening.

Risks of multiple births

Did you know?

Women are around 20 times more likely to have a multiple pregnancy after fertility treatments than if they had become pregnant naturally.

Having twins, triplets, or more is the single greatest health risk related to fertility treatments, both for the mother and her babies.

Risks to mothers

Mothers of multiples have more complications during pregnancy, including:

  • gestational diabetes
  • hypertension
  • pre-eclampsia (a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death)
  • early and late miscarriages

While the impacts on the mother may be mild, gestational diabetes can cause the death of an unborn child or newborn baby.

Mothers of multiples sometimes need to be hospitalized during the final weeks of the pregnancy, and most multiples are born before term. Problems during delivery are also more common, including:

  • the need for a Caesarean section (C-section)
  • haemorrhage (bleeding)
  • anaemia (not enough red blood cells)

Risks to babies/foetuses

Multiples have higher health risks, too, because of their likelihood to be born prematurely and to have below-normal birth weights, which can cause medical and developmental problems.

  • The risk of a baby dyingwithin the first week after it is born is more than four times greater for twins than for a single baby. It is seven times greater for triplets.
  • The risk of a baby developing cerebral palsy is five times higher for twins and 18 times higher for triplets than for a single child.
  • Premature (calaled pre-term) birth is much more likely with multiples. The average length of pregnancy for single babies is 39 weeks, for twins 35 weeks, and for triplets 31 weeks.
  • Multiples are much more likely to be born small. Only 6.3% of single babies are born at less than 5.5 pounds (2,500 g), compared to 56.6% of twins and 94.1% of triplets.
  • The likelihood of long-term health problems is also higher, especially for pre-term babies. The seriousness of these problems depends mainly on how early the baby is born. Pre-term babies usually have to be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and stay in a hospital for a longer period of time.
  • Pre-term babies are at greater risk of developing jaundice, infection, feeding problems, breathing problems, poor growth, brain injury, and hearing and visual problems. These short-term problems can impact their development later in life.
  • Miscarriage between 11 and 23 weeks is twice as high for twins as it is for single babies. It is five times as high for twins who share an umbilical cord.

Reducing the number of multiples

Because of these risks to both mother and baby, there is more pressure on fertility specialists to reduce the number of embryos transferred in each treatment cycle. In fact, some countries limit the number of embryos that can be transferred, depending on the mother's age. Generally, it is recommended that women under 35 have a single embryo transfer, while two to three are advised for women over 35. The exact procedure for embryo transfer depends on the clinic and treatment you choose.

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