Womens Health

IVF And Multiple Pregnancies: What Are The Risks?

Multiple pregnancies are those that involve more than one fetus. Twins are the most common type although all multiple pregnancies, including triplets and quadruplets, are on the rise. This increase is connected to the growth of infertility treatments. As infertility treatments become more advanced and more widely available, the numbers of multiple births are steadily growing.

What Is The Connection Between IVF And Multiple Pregnancies?

The IVF procedure involves a reproductive technique where the egg and sperm are fertilized in laboratory conditions. The newly formed embryos are then reinserted into the uterus. The number of embryos that are put back are 2-3 on average. More than one embryo is used in order to increase the chance of a viable pregnancy. Multiple embryos increase the chances greatly of multiple births. One study shows that IVF babies are 20 times more likely to be multiple birth babies than non IVF babies.

What Are The Risks of Multiple Births?

The risks of a multiple pregnancy are much higher than those in a single one. The risks are increased for pregnancy related complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, preterm labor, hemorrhage and fetal growth problems.

Preterm labor is the most common problem associated with multiple births. The gestation period for single pregnancies is 40 weeks on average. Twin pregnancies are more likely to last between 35-37 weeks. Premature babies are at risk of many more health problems than full term babies. Because of this, preterm babies are often put in neonatal intensive care units for monitoring and treatment.

Developmental delays and cerebral palsy are more common in multiple births. Due to these increased risks, some fertility doctors recommend that couples undertake counseling before starting fertility treatment.

What Are The Challenges of Multiple Births?

For many couples who have struggled with infertility, the prospect of more than one baby from a single pregnancy is very encouraging. Some couples feel that as the IVF treatment is so unpleasant and expensive, multiple pregnancies are better. However, many couples are not aware of the risks to the mother and fetus.

After the initial euphoria fades when finding out that it's a multiple pregnancy, there are many psychological and economic issues that arise.  Once a multiple pregnancy has occurred there is little that can be done. Embryo reduction is a very high risk procedure as it can compromise the desired fetus. There is a procedure called fetal reduction which involves injecting drugs into the undesired fetus. This is a highly controversial issue that highlights some of the more complex moral issues associated with fertility treatments.

Multiple pregnancies are one of the side effects of IVF treatments. While many couples see this as a benefit of the treatment, it is important that they understand the implications before they begin their journey with IVF.

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