IVF children do not have any risk of poor psychiatric healthy during adolescence and adulthood, researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have declared. They conducted a large observational study (published in JAMA Psychiatry) to find that there is a slightly higher risk of obsessive-compulsive disorder for the kids born with in-vitro fertilization but it is mostly attributed to parental background factors.

“These findings are overall reassuring with respect to the psychiatric health of adolescents conceived with ART, a group that we are now for the first time able to follow into early adulthood,” said the study’s corresponding author, Chen Wang, who is a doctoral student at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet.

IVF children psychiatric health

The long-term consequences of IVF on women and babies have frequently been questioned but being only a four-decade old industry that gained wide acceptance only in the past 10-15 years, there isn’t much insight into the subject.

The world’s earliest IVF babies are now birthing children of their own but experts are still keenly observing the lives of children born with assisted reproductive techniques (ART). This is the first major study to observe the effects of IVF on the mental health of young adults, who have been conceived with ART.

Studying over 30,000 IVF children

More than 9 million children have been born with the use of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) since 1978.

Swedish researchers, using individually linked population-based data, were able to follow more than 1.2 million children and young adults for 12 years from 1994 to 2006. The participates were in the age range of 12 to 25 at the time of conclusion of the study.

31,565 (or 2.6%) of the study participants were conceived with ART. Researchers had the registry-based information of all the study participants and they were followed up for the occurrence of psychiatric disorders such as major depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), suicidal behavior and the use of antidepressants.

Less about ART; more about parental characteristics

It is also possible that couples who undergo ART have certain similar traits and characteristics, which may play out as possible problems in the long-term health of the children born of IVF.

The researchers in this study took care to separate various parental background factors such as infertility, age of both parents, their mental health, education, etc. from the side effects of IVF treatments, to ensure they have an accurate understanding of the results.

“In the end, we did not find that use of ART had any adverse influence on children’s psychiatric health as they go through adolescence,” said Sara öberg, study author and associate professor at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Institutet.

“Individuals conceived with ART had a slightly elevated risk of OCD compared with the general population but this was explained by differences in the background of the parents, as this excess risk was no longer present after adjustment for various parental characteristics.”

Effects of fresh vs frozen embryo transfer

Interestingly, the researchers also studied the effect of fresh vs frozen embryo transfer on the psychiatric health of children born with ART.

Fresh but not frozen embryo transfer resulted in a lower risk of mood disorders in the children of couples who conceived with IVF when compared to those infertile couples who conceived without any ART assistance.

So, this makes frozen embryo transfer less favorable to fresh embryo transfer. However, in when considering IVF success and being better for the patients, many doctors now prefer frozen over fresh IVF.

More research will be needed to study the long-term effects of IVF and other ARTs on the mental and physical health of babies as they grow into young adults and later step into old age.

The authors concluded that IVF children are not at an increased risk of psychiatric disorders or depression than the children born via natural conception.

Wang C, Johansson ALV, Rodriguez-Wallberg KA, et al. Long-term Follow-up of Psychiatric Disorders in Children and Adolescents Conceived by Assisted Reproductive Techniques in Sweden. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online December 15, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.3647

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