Older Mothers And IVF Pushing Up Birth Defect Rate, Says Study

Growing numbers of older mothers and use of in vitro fertilization (IVF) has led to a significant increase in the number of babies born with birth defects since the 1980s, says a study.

The study, which is based on data from a group of clinicians called the European Surveillance of Congenital Anomalies (EUROCAT), is published in the journal BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The findings, which were based on participants in Europe, found that the rate of babies born with congenital birth has risen by 50 percent since the 1980s. Experts believe that jump is caused by increasing numbers of older mothers and more use of IVF.

Data from 5.4 million births across 14 European countries between 1984 and 2007 was analyzed.

The results showed that the overall congenital birth defect rate increased by about 50 per cent over that period. In addition, in the case of multiple births, the risks of defects was 27 per cent higher than in single baby births, The Telegraph reports.

Helen Dolk, a professor from the Center for Maternal Fetal and Infant Research, University of Ulster, and co-author of the study, said:

“The increase in multiple birth rates may be explained by changes in maternal age and increased use of assisted reproductive technology (ART). It is clear that more research needs to be done to determine the contribution of ART to the risk of congenital anomalies in multiple births.”

John Thorp, BJOG deputy-editor-in-chief, added:

“This increase in babies who are both from a multiple pregnancy and affected by a congenital anomaly has implications for pre and post natal service provision. Extra specialized help should be put in place for affected families, recognizing than there are now nearly double as many affected families than there were 20 years ago.”

The study comes at the same time that research by a group of researchers from the University of Calgary and the University of Manitoba found that older mothers — even those with low-risk pregnancies — are more likely to feel that their babies are at risk.

According to the Toronto Star, a study published in the September/October issue of the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, compared pregnancy risk perception in two groups of first-time mothers-to-be: one group between 20 and 29, the other were 35 or older.

The women completed a series of questionnaires expressing any concerns they had while researchers also compiled medical, physical, and mental histories of each participant.

The researchers found that women aged 35 years and older had “significantly higher levels of perception of risk of having cesarean birth, dying during pregnancy, having a child born prematurely, or having a child with a birth defect, or one admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) than women aged 20 to 29 years.”

This suggested that a medically known risk factor, such as age, played a significant part in a woman’s perception of pregnancy risk.

The researchers advised “incorporating discussions of pregnancy risk into prenatal care visits” to help older mothers-to-be “make more informed choices, reduce anxiety, and avoid unnecessary interventions.”

Lisa M. Weston, President of the Association of Ontario Midwives, agrees:

“It’s important to individualize risk factors for each woman. We don’t want women to make fear-based choices.”