Test tube children develop mentally normal

July 10, 2013

Whether a child is conceived naturally or in a Petri dish in an incubator has no bearing at all on the child's mental health. However, researchers have identified a small but increased risk of developing a mental disorder such as autism, ADHD or behavioural problems in children whose mothers only received medical treatment to stimulate ovulation and egg development before insemination.

This is the result of a new research project from Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital, which has compared the risk of mental illness in artificially fertilised and naturally conceived children. The study will be published today in the highly acclaimed British Medical Journal (BMJ).

In the project, researchers compared children aged up to 17 years from three different groups: naturally conceived children, children of mothers who only received medical treatment to become pregnant, and a group of children conceived using the so-called test-tube method, where fertilisation takes place outside the uterus.

The general conclusion of the study is that test-tube babies are generally just as mentally and physically healthy as naturally conceived children. On the other hand, the researchers found a measurable increase in the occurrence of mental disorders in children whose mothers received help to become pregnant through insemination treatment in the form of hormone stimulation to promote egg development and ovulation. Yet there is no obvious explanation for these results, according to one of the researchers behind the study, Bjørn Bay, MD and PhD fellow at Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital.

"In the study, we have taken account of the mother's age, education, smoking habits, mental history and other factors which may otherwise influence the risk. We can also discount the various types of fertility drugs which are given prior to becoming pregnant. If we suspected that the drugs were having an impact on the children's mental development, the effect would also be traceable in the group of test-tube babies - and it's not," says Bjørn Bay, adding that the explanation must be attributable to as yet unknown factors among childless couples.

"Beyond well-known factors such as age and smoking, it is important that we take a closer look at the differences between women who easily become pregnant and women who find it difficult.

Until then, the message from the researchers is that parents who have been helped by science to start a family have no grounds for concern. Even though the number of children with mental problems is on the increase, the risk is still only very small," says Bjørn Bay.

"At the end of the day, there are very few cases. The key message is that by far the majority of children develop normally, and that we see no reason to intervene in the treatment and the methods currently being used," says Bjørn Bay.

Facts:
-end-
The group comprises Bjørn Bay, MD and PhD fellow at Aarhus University,Dorte Hvidtjørn, midwife and researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, Erik Lykke Mortensen, a psychologist and professor at the University of Copenhagen, and Ulrik Schiøler Kesmodel, consultant gynaecologist at the fertility clinic at Aarhus University Hospital.

Aarhus University

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