A new study has found that women who become pregnant with the assistance of reproductive technology are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Researchers found that these complications include bleeding, serious infections and ICU admittance around the time of delivery.
The study, which was published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, looked at data from over 800,000 births in Ontario hospitals between 2006 and 2012. A total of 11,546 women were identified as having conceived through infertility treatment and were paired against 47,553 similar women who conceived without any assistance. Researchers found numerous similarities in those women who conceived with the help of fertility treatments: they were typically older, were more often first-time mothers, and were more likely to be pregnant with twins than those who conceived naturally. All of this translates to what experts deem 'high-risk'.
According to the study's lead author Dr. Natalie Dayan, clinician-scientist and Director of Obstetric Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the McGill University Health Centre, 30.8 per 1,000 of the women in the study who received infertility treatment experienced a severe complication. This was compared with a group of women of the same age who didn't use treatment. In this group, only 22.2 per 1,000 of the women experienced complications.
Despite how this appears, Dr. Dayan said that these numbers are actually fairly minuscule.
"It is important to remember that the . . . number of women who develop these complications remains quite small," she said. "For the vast majority of women or couples who cannot conceive naturally, this treatment is a very safe and effective method of becoming pregnant and having a child."
In Canada, approximately 10 to 15 for every 1,000 births experience severe complications. When it comes to maternal deaths, the number dips even lower - around 10 or fewer births per 100,000. Complications are difficult to predict and can happen suddenly, so experts believe that it is vital that those women who are at risk for these events be identified as soon as possible to avoid possible negative outcomes.
Now more than ever, Canadian couples are turning to assisted reproductive technology to grow their families. One in six couples in Canada are affected by infertility, and these treatments result in around 18,000 births in Canada every year. Although this recent study does suggest there is a small risk associated with these treatments, the authors noted that it is yet to be determined which specific components (in vitro, ovarian hyperstimulation, fresh vs. frozen embryo transfer) of treatment contribute to these complications.
Dr. Joel Ray, scientist and researcher at St. Michael's Hospital said that women who may be undergoing infertility treatment in the future need to be informed about these small but important health risks, and followed closely.
"If infertility treatment is chosen by the patient and her doctor, she may need to be followed more closely during pregnancy by obstetricians and medical specialists with experience in high-risk pregnancies," he said.