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AIMS—To compare the outcome in in vitro fertilisation (IVF) children (after fresh embryo transfer) from multiple and singleton births with one another, and with normally conceived control children.
METHODS—A cohort of 278 children (150 singletons, 100 twins, 24 triplets and four quadruplets), conceived by IVF after three fresh embryos had been transferred, born between October 1984 and December 1991, and 278 normally conceived control children (all singletons), were followed up for four years after birth. They were assessed for neonatal conditions, minor congenital anomalies, major congenital malformations, cerebral palsy and other disabilities. Control children, all born at term, were matched for age, sex and social class.
RESULTS—The ratio of male:female births was 1.03. Forty six per cent of IVF children were from multiple births; 34.9% were from preterm deliveries; and 43.2% weighed less than 2500 g at birth. The IVF singletons were on average born one week earlier than the controls, weighed 400 g less, and had a threefold greater chance of being born by caesarean section. The higher percentage of preterm deliveries was largely due to multiple births and they contributed to neonatal conditions in 45.0% of all IVF children. The types of congenital abnormalities varied: 3.6% of IVF children and 2.5% of controls had minor congenital anomalies, and 2.5% of IVF children and none of the controls had major congenital malformations. The numbers of each specific type of congenital abnormality were small and were not significantly related to multiple births. IVF children (2.1%) and 0.4% of the controls had mild/moderate disabilities. They were all from multiple births, including two children with cerebral palsy who were triplets.
CONCLUSIONS—The outcome of IVF treatment leading to multiple births is less satisfactory than that in singletons because of neonatal conditions associated with preterm delivery and disabilities in later childhood. A reduction of multiple pregnancies by limiting the transfer of embryos to two instead of three remains a high priority.
Keywords: IVF; multiple births; congenital abnormalities; disabilities.