Children conceived through medically assisted reproduction treatments, such as IVF, artificial insemination, or ovulation induction, appear to perform better at school than those born through natural conception, according to a new study.
The research, conducted by University College London in partnership with Finland’s University of Helsinki, also found that while IVF children fared better at school, they were more prone to anxiety and depression in their teenage years.
Published in the European Journal of Population, the research involved analyzing the records of over 280,000 children born over a five-year period and tracking them as they grew up. The scientists also studied the educational outcomes and mental health of those born through medically assisted reproduction (MAR).
The team also found that teenagers conceived by MAR were less likely to drop out of school and were at a lower risk of being unemployed or leaving home early compared to naturally conceived children.
“What we’re seeing here is mostly reassuring; children conceived through medically assisted reproduction do better overall and are in fact not more disadvantaged in terms of mental health outcomes,” study co-author Dr. Alice Goisis at UCL’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies said in a university release.
The observational study is thought to be the first to examine the correlations between conception methods, mental health, and wellbeing later in life.
“The fact that we observe an increased risk of mental health disorders once we account for family characteristics could be a cause for concern and merits further attention in future research,” she added.
The researchers said in a statement that the correlation for mental health was only observed when social demographics were taken into consideration, and that there was no evidence to suggest the MAR treatment itself was the source of association for mental health.
“We explicitly put a lot of focus on the social demographics of families who conceived through medically assisted reproduction – and our findings underscore the importance of integrating this perspective in studies of medically assisted reproduction and its consequences,” the statement said.
The research involved examining administrative records on over 280,000 Finnish children born between 1995 and 2000. They compared the educational and mental health outcomes among teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18 who were conceived naturally (266,925) and MAR (13,757).
The authors noted that MAR children are more likely to come from better off families who may provide children with resources (financial, time and emotional) that benefit their educational outcomes. However, they could also suggest that difficulties conceiving may expose parents to mental health issues, which could have impacted their children by putting them at greater risk of psychological distress.
“Whilst we don’t have the data to explain why those born by medically assisted reproduction are at slightly higher risk of mental health disorders, we believe that this may be due to different mechanisms,” lead author Dr. Hanna Remes from the University of Helsinki said.
“The fact that MAR-conceived children tend to be the first-born – around 60 per cent of the children in the study - explained some of the excess risks. It is also possible that because of the process they went through, parents of children conceived by IVF, for example, may have been exposed mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, which may, in turn, have put the children themselves at higher risk of having mental health problems.”
Since the oldest child conceived by IVF treatment is now 43 years old, the researchers noted that this area of study is still relatively new.
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