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Australian researchers study link between fertility treatments and birth defects

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Every year, more than 3.7 million babies are born with the help of fertility treatments, but a new study out of Australia suggests that they’re more likely to be born with birth defects. Researchers studied popular treatments including fertility drug Clomid, in-vitro fertilization (IVF), egg fertilizer outside the body, and intracytoplasmic sperm injection.

Out of 300,000 babies born in Australia, 18,000 were born with major birth defects such as cerebral palsy, heart, and gastrointestinal defects. Researchers found that fertility treatments increased birth defect risk 8.3 percent, compared to 5.8 percent. Babies conceived through IVF face a 7.2 percent chance of being born with birth defects while babies conceived through ICSI were 9.9 percent likely. This risk tripled for women who used Clomid.

These study results seem devastating as more than 6 million women in the U.S. have trouble bearing children. In 2009, more than 60,000 babies were conceived through 146,000 attempts using IVF or ICSI, while another 5 percent were conceived through fertility medications. Women utilizing fertility treatments continue to skyrocket as more women wait until later age to conceive.

The chances of conceiving are different for every woman as well as the risks and benefits of fertility treatments. Researchers suggest that the findings should not scare nor discourage women from using fertility treatments. Dr. James Goldfarb, director of the Fertility Center at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland says birth defects may be caused by what causes the infertility, rather than IVF.

“The majority of problems with IVF babies are because the patients undergoing the procedure are more susceptible to the problems,” he says.