Health Team

In vitro fertilization comes with risks

Posted March 5, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— Debate over fertility treatments has raged since Nadya Suleman gave birth to octuplets in Bellflower, Calif., on Jan. 26. When implanting embryos, there are health risks for both the mother and the babies, not to mention the challenges of raising several infants at once.

In vitro fertilization can be risky In vitro fertilization can be risky

When couples turn to in vitro fertilization (IVF), there is always the possibility of multiple births. Even when a couple wants one child, the process can be a guessing game.

For five years, Sheree Mann, 40, and her husband tried everything to get pregnant, including hormone supplements.

“And that still didn't work, so IVF was my last chance, and it worked,” Mann said.

With the help of IVF and Carolina Conceptions, Mann is 15 weeks' pregnant with four babies. However, anything beyond twins is never fertility specialist Dr. Bill Meyer's goal.

“I think it's one of the most devastating things about assisted reproduction. I think it's even more devastating than a non-pregnancy,” Meyer said.

Dr. Jeff Kuller, a Duke obstetrician, says women with multiple gestations face a greater risk of blood pressure problems. The babies are at increased risk for "cerebral palsy, intracranial hemorrhage, necrotizing enterocolitis (and) fetal lung immaturity,” Kuller said.

Meyer said he considered Mann's age and history of infertility when deciding how many embryos to transplant.

“We chose a more aggressive plan because we definitely wanted to make sure that I conceived this time. So I went with four,” Mann said.

The hope was that at least one embryo would take.

“Actually, her chance of having quads was about 1 in 7,500,” Meyer said.

“I was not statistically in the mix because all four of mine took,” Mann said.

So far, Mann and the babies are doing well. She said hopes the quads wait until at least the 30-week mark before delivery.

“Anything beyond 30 weeks just increases the chances of my children being stronger and healthier,” Mann

The Manns are also well prepared to care for four babies. They have a large enough home and steady jobs. They plan to hire a nanny and a night nurse. Sheree Mann's mother also plans to help care for the babies, they said.


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  • riottc Mar 6, 2009

    “I think it's one of the most devastating things about assisted reproduction. I think it's even more devastating than a non-pregnancy,” Myer said.

    As someone who has had 3 rounds of IVF and never achieved a pregnancy after 7 years, I would say this is absolutely not true. Though I wouldn't have authorized the transfer of more than 3 embryos had I had that option, I would prefer having 4 babies to none.

  • bill0 Mar 6, 2009

    JK CAT, I'm happy for you and your twins, but "Selective Reduction" is a nice way to say abortion, so it isn't a viable option for about half the population. I'm sure the doctor broached the subject, but the patient has the ultimate say.

    As for the number transferred, a reputable clinic averages 2-3 for women under 35. A success rate of 50% is considered pretty good. If you drop the number transferred to 1, your success rate drops down to 25% or less. Understandably, people who are desperately trying to have kids want their chances to be closer to 50% than 25%. They would rather take a small risk of multiples and the large risk of not getting pregnant at all.

  • JK CAT Mar 5, 2009

    I don't understand why selective reduction was not recommended for this lady...I was pregnant with triplets after my IVF, and I followed my RE's advice to selectively reduce from triplets to twins. I did not want to take any risks of them being born too early...and as it turned out, I was one of the lucky moms who went full-term and delivered at 38 weeks via elective c-section. And...embryos are TRANSFERRED, not IMPLANTED. I had 3 embryos transferred and to everybody's surprise, all 3 of them implanted. My RE missed seeing the 3rd one at the 9 week ultrasound, and if it was not for my fears about vanishing twin syndrome, I had to demand an ultrasound from my OB at 13 weeks. That was when we found out that instead of one disappearing as I'd feared, ANOTHER one appeared! I underwent selective reduction 4 days later, and it was the best decision for our family. We have been blessed with boy/girl twins and that is all we want.

  • BuglessDuster Mar 5, 2009

    Multiple births can easlily be controlled. The prospective mother has the final say in how many embryos can be implanted. The doctors merely make a recommendation based on how each embryo is graded on a scale of 1 to 4. Also, depending on the person's beliefs on abortion or "reduction," the number of embryos that "take" can be controlled that way as well. My wife and I have IVF twins and it was worth every penny we spent and all the health risks.