Study Finds Surrogate Pregnancies are Different

by K. Blaine, CBC Research Associate on April 4, 2018

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You know how a good song brings back old memories? Well, recently I found myself reading a research article published in Fertility and Sterility—or Fert and Stert, as I lovingly call it—and it brought back old memories of days when I was a young research assistant still trying to find my place in the world.

I know this makes me sound incredibly nerdy, but the truth is, I am. And, although I have since changed careers, my passion for reproductive health is still ever-present. That’s why I am writing you today; I read about this study published in an ol’ familiar journal and I think you should know the findings.

Before commenting on the article, let me say a word about the journal itself. Fertility and Sterility is a journal with a legitimate impact factor. What that means is, it’s one of the most frequently referenced scientific journals in the field of reproductive medicine. Scientists, obstetricians, gynecologists, reproductive endocrinologists, and other professionals glean important information from the papers published within its pages. Fertility and Sterility is global. As teenagers would say, “It’s kind of a big deal”.

Ok, so now let’s get to the main course. In the paper “Perinatal Outcomes after Natural Conception versus in vitro Fertilization (IVF) in Gestational Surrogates: A Model to Evaluate IVF Treatment versus Maternal Effects,” Dr. Woo and her team at LAC + USC Medical Center in Los Angeles find some pretty important information regarding a super-hot topic right now: IVF and surrogacy.

Thanks to celebrities like Kim Kardashian, more and more people are opening their minds to nontraditional approaches to building and baking babies. Although our initial response may be to accept IVF and surrogacy as another wonderful way to bring life into the world and build a family, it’s important to think critically about the risks they might carry.

This retrospective study looked at data from women who experienced both their own spontaneous pregnancies and birth as well as IVF pregnancies from a commissioned embryo as part of a surrogate pregnancy and birth. In other words, this study utilized data from women who had two different pregnancy and birth experiences—one with her own child produced naturally, and another where she was a womb for rent to a couple with an IVF baby.

By using previous pregnancies (natural pregnancies that had occurred in the same woman) as the control, this allowed the researchers to evaluate the effect of assisted reproductive therapy (mainly IVF) on the birth experience and outcome.

If you don’t read anything else, read this next sentence. The authors found that neonates born from commissioned embryos (embryos made from IVF) and carried by gestational surrogates (women who have no genetic relationship to the embryo) have increased incidences of preterm birth, low birth weight babies, maternal gestational diabetes, hypertension, and placenta previa, compared with the live births conceived spontaneously and carried by the same woman. These pregnancies are also more likely to end in cesarean section rather than vaginal birth (which equates to more risks to both surrogate and baby).

This is a big deal. It means that pregnancy outcomes for spontaneous or “regular” pregnancies and surrogate pregnancies are significantly different. This must be considered before we can even begin to accept IVF and surrogacy as healthy, ethical alternatives.

I know some of you might be thinking, “but this is a retrospective study”. I’ll admit, it would be better if this was a prospective study where we could control all variables, but we can’t.

It is very hard to convince mommies and daddies to enroll themselves and their unborn children in research studies when the process of getting pregnant can be hard enough. Not many mothers want to be involved in research studies when they are already stressed out with infertility and pregnancy. I get it.

Regardless, more studies must be done. We must be diligent to protect our reproductive health and the health and the rights of our children.

I encourage you to go and read the article for yourself. Even if you don’t think of yourself as particularly scientifically minded, it’s a very readable article. It’s a short six pages that wastes no time getting to the point. Babies who are built by IVF and carried through gestational surrogacy have a harder time starting out in life.

I’ll just mention briefly that a rough pregnancy and birth may be setting up a baby up for some long-term health issues, but that’s another topic for another blog.

 

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