IVF and Multiple Births: What Are the Risks?
IVF treatment requires an investment of time and money. Having already experienced disappointment over failed attempts to conceive, couples who turn to IVF also invest a lot of mental energy and emotion – they want very much for it to succeed.
Sometimes couples choose to transfer two embryos to improve their chances of success. And this can result in twins. The prospect of bringing two babies into the world can be thrilling to a couple, but there are risks associated with multiple births that couples should be aware of before choosing to transfer more than one embryo in the IVF process.
Michael A. Feinman, MD, Medical Director of HRC Fertility in Southern California, notes that patients don’t always understand the risks of being pregnant with two, acknowledging that some couples strongly want to transfer two embryos or actually desire twins. “Some couples think twins are ‘cute’ because they do not see the ones who experience the problems of prematurity or see how difficult it is for parents to handle them.”1
“It has been shown that twin pregnancies cost society billions of dollars each year,” Dr. Feinman says. “These costs are due to increased maternal hospitalizations to prevent prematurity, increased intensive care for the babies from prematurity, and increased rates of lifelong disabilities like cerebral palsy in twins.”
According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), one in every 12 twin pregnancies will result in a significant disability or the loss of at least one baby. Twin pregnancies also increase the risk of most pregnancy-related health problems for the mother.2 A couple can reduce these risks by transferring just one embryo in the IVF process.
The March of Dimes, an American non-profit organisation that works to prevent birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality, reports that nearly 60% of all twins and more than 90% of triplets are born prematurely (before 37 weeks).3 When babies are born prematurely, their lungs, brain and other organs may not be fully developed, their immune system may not be strong enough to fight infection, and they may not be able to suck or swallow.
Couples opting for IVF must carefully weigh the risks of transferring more than one embryo before making a decision. Their fertility consultant will help them to understand the risks and reach a decision that takes all factors into consideration.
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