The risk of birth defects with conception by ART

Barbara Luke, Morton B. Brown, Ethan Wantman, Nina E. Forestieri, Marilyn L. Browne, Sarah C. Fisher, Mahsa M. Yazdy, Mary K. Ethen, Mark A. Canfield, Stephanie Watkins, Hazel B. Nichols, Leslie V. Farland, Sergio Oehninger, Kevin J. Doody, Michael L. Eisenberg, Valerie L. Baker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


STUDY QUESTION: What is the association between ART conception and treatment parameters and the risk of birth defects? SUMMARY ANSWER: Compared to naturally conceived singleton infants, the risk of a major nonchromosomal defect among ART singletons conceived with autologous oocytes and fresh embryos without use of ICSI was increased by 18%, with increases of 42% and 30% for use of ICSI with and without male factor diagnosis, respectively. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Prior studies have indicated that infertility and ART are associated with an increased risk of birth defects but have been limited by small sample size and inadequate statistical power, failure to differentiate results by plurality, differences in birth defect definitions and methods of ascertainment, lack of information on ART treatment parameters or study periods spanning decades resulting in a substantial historical bias as ART techniques have improved. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: This was a population-based cohort study linking ART cycles reported to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology Clinic Outcome Reporting System (SART CORS) from 1 January 2004 to 31 December 2015 that resulted in live births from 1 September 2004 to 31 December 2016 in Massachusetts and North Carolina and from 1 September 2004 to 31 December 2015 for Texas and New York: These were large and ethnically diverse States, with birth defect registries utilizing the same case definitions and data collected, and with high numbers of ART births annually. A 10:1 sample of non-ART births were chosen within the same time period as the ART birth. Naturally conceived ART siblings were identified through the mother's information. Non-ART children were classified as being born to women who conceived with ovulation induction (OI)/IUI when there was an indication of infertility treatment on the birth certificate, but the woman did not link to the SART CORS; all others were classified as being naturally conceived. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: The study population included 135 051 ART children (78 362 singletons and 56 689 twins), 23 647 naturally conceived ART siblings (22 301 singletons and 1346 twins) and 9396 children born to women treated with OI/IUI (6597 singletons and 2799 twins) and 1 067 922 naturally conceived children (1 037 757 singletons and 30 165 twins). All study children were linked to their respective State birth defect registries to identify major defects diagnosed within the first year of life. We classified children with major defects as either chromosomal (i.e. presence of a chromosomal defect with or without any other major defect) or nonchromosomal (i.e. presence of a major defect but having no chromosomal defect), or all major defects (chromosomal and nonchromosomal). Logistic regression models were used to generate adjusted odds ratios (AORs) and 95% CI to evaluate the risk of birth defects due to conception with ART (using autologous oocytes and fresh embryos), and with and without the use of ICSI in the absence or presence of male factor infertility, with naturally conceived children as the reference. Analyses within the ART group were stratified by combinations of oocyte source (autologous, donor) and embryo state (fresh, thawed), with births from autologous oocytes and fresh embryos as the reference. Analyses limited to fresh embryos were stratified by oocyte source (autologous, donor) and the use of ICSI. Triplets and higher-order multiples were excluded. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: A total of 21 998 singleton children (1.9%) and 3037 twin children (3.3%) had a major birth defect. Compared to naturally conceived children, ART singletons (conceived from autologous oocytes, fresh embryos without the use of ICSI) had increased risks of a major nonchromosomal birth defect (AOR 1.18, 95% 1.05, 1.32), cardiovascular defects (AOR 1.20, 95% CI 1.03, 1.40), and any birth defect (AOR 1.18, 95% CI 1.09, 1.27). Compared to naturally conceived children, ART singletons conceived (from autologous oocytes, fresh embryos) with the use of ICSI, the risks were increased for a major nonchromosomal birth defect (AOR 1.30, 95% CI 1.16, 1.45 without male factor diagnosis; AOR 1.42, 95% CI 1.28, 1.57 with male factor diagnosis); blastogenesis defects (AOR 1.49, 95% CI 1.08, 2.05 without male factor; AOR 1.56, 95% CI 1.17, 2.08 with male factor); cardiovascular defects (AOR 1.28, 95% CI 1.10,1.48 without male factor; AOR 1.45, 95% CI 1.27, 1.66 with male factor); in addition, the risk for musculoskeletal defects was increased (AOR 1.34, 95% CI 1.01, 1.78 without male factor) and the risk for genitourinary defects in male infants was increased (AOR 1.33, 95% CI 1.08, 1.65 with male factor). Comparisons within ART singleton births conceived from autologous oocytes and fresh embryos indicated that the use of ICSI was associated with increased risks of a major nonchromosomal birth defect (AOR 1.18, 95% CI 1.03, 1.35), blastogenesis defects (AOR 1.65, 95% CI 1.08, 2.51), gastrointestinal defects (AOR 2.21, 95% CI 1.28, 3.82) and any defect (AOR 1.11, 95% CI 1.01, 1.22). Compared to naturally conceived children, ART singleton siblings had increased risks of musculoskeletal defects (AOR 1.32, 95% CI 1.04, 1.67) and any defect (AOR 1.15, 95% CI 1.08, 1.23). ART twins (conceived with autologous oocytes, fresh embryos, without ICSI) were at increased risk of chromosomal defects (AOR 1.89, 95% CI 1.10, 3.24) and ART twin siblings were at increased risk of any defect (AOR 1.26, 95% CI 1.01, 1.57). The 18% increased risk of a major nonchromosomal birth defect in singleton infants conceived with ART without ICSI (∼36% of ART births), the 30% increased risk with ICSI without male factor (∼33% of ART births), and the 42% increased risk with ICSI and male factor (∼31% of ART births) translates into an estimated excess of 386 major birth defects among the 68 908 singleton children born by ART in 2017. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: In the SART CORS database, it was not possible to differentiate method of embryo freezing (slow freezing vs vitrification), and data on ICSI was only available in the fresh embryo ART group. In the OI/IUI group, it was not possible to differentiate type of non-ART treatment utilized, and in both the ART and OI/IUI groups, data were unavailable on duration of infertility. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: The use of ART is associated with increased risks of a major nonchromosomal birth defect, cardiovascular defect and any defect in singleton children, and chromosomal defects in twins; the use of ICSI further increases this risk, the most with male factor infertility. These findings support the judicious use of ICSI only when medically indicated. The relative contribution of ART treatment parameters versus the biology of the subfertile couple to this increased risk remains unclear and warrants further study. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): This project was supported by grant R01 HD084377 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, or the National Institutes of Health, nor any of the State Departments of Health which contributed data. E.W. is a contract vendor for SART; all other authors report no conflicts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)116-129
Number of pages14
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021


  • ART
  • ICSI
  • IVF
  • birth defects
  • embryo state
  • oocyte source
  • siblings
  • singletons
  • twins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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