How is IVF Pregnancy Different Than Non-IVF Pregnancy?

Learn about the risks and complications of undergoing IVF treatment.

pregnant single woman
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Many people struggling with infertility choose in vitro fertilization (IVF) as an assisted conception method. The procedure involves extracting eggs from the ovaries, mixing them with sperm, and inserting them directly into the uterus. Given the unique method of conception, some may wonder how IVF pregnancy differs from a pregnancy that does not use assisted reproductive technology (ART) such as IVF. As it turns out, the risks and complications are pretty similar.

IVF Pregnancy Health Risks

Good news for parents undergoing IVF treatment: A pregnancy achieved through IVF is not necessarily considered high risk, according to Connie L. Agnew, M.D., an Ob-Gyn in Los Angeles, California. “Yet a woman who conceives via this technique may have one or more pre-existing conditions, such as advanced maternal age or a history of miscarriage, that make it appropriate for her to see a perinatologist,” says Dr. Agnew. She explains that a perinatologist is a physician who specializes in the treatment of a pregnant parent and their fetus when either is at risk for complications.

IVF is a safe, effective, and common treatment for infertility that is usually perused after someone deals with significant challenges trying to conceive, such as ovulation disorders, impaired sperm function, and uterine fibroids.

There are many reasons why IVF may be the best option for conceiving, but there are some risks unique to IVF to watch out for during pregnancy.

IVF increases chance of conceiving multiples

Many IVF recipients have more than one embryo implanted to increase the chance of getting pregnant. In fact, according to data collected by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), about 6.6% of IVF pregnancies in parents under the age of 35 resulted in live births of twins, and 0.2% resulted in triplets after 42,460 cycles counted.

Carrying twins or triplets is considered higher risk with or without IVF treatment since it increases the chances of premature labor and low birth weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), multiples are more common with fertility treatments than non-assisted pregnancies because of how the process works; doctors transfer more than one embryo to increase the chances of conception.

IVF increases chance of birth complications

Babies born through IVF have a slightly higher chance of birth defects (about 1-2%). But according to Susan Hudson, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Texas Fertility Center in New Braunfels, the birth defects are probably related to the nature of the parent's infertility instead of IVF treatment.

In a systemic review of medical data, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that IVF did not directly cause congenital birth defects or complications. The underlying conditions that brought the parents to use IVF, such as advanced maternal age. Researchers note in their findings that although IVF is not without risk, any parents who want to use IVF should know that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Are IVF pregnancy symptoms different?

In general, the symptoms of IVF pregnancy resemble those of non-IVF pregnancy. But those with IVF may be more aware of early pregnancy signs since they know they’re carrying a child from the beginning. Those who don't use IVF or assisted conception methods to become pregnant usually aren't aware of their pregnancy for about a month or until they take a pregnancy test.

Fertility medications used to stimulate egg production before the IVF procedure may also have side effects resembling pregnancy symptoms. These can include

  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Mood swings
  • Bloating
  • Hot flashes

While these symptoms aren't usually concerning, they may rarely result from ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which is an uncommon condition that occurs from excess egg production. Visit a doctor if you experience severe weight gain, abdominal pain and swelling, nausea, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

The Bottom Line

IVF is a safe method for conceiving. Although IVF does carry some risks, researchers and doctors point out that the benefits of IVF outweigh the risks. If you are considering IVF, the CDC has an IVF Success Estimator tool that can help you see an estimate of your chances for conception. As with any pregnancy—via IVF or not—talk to your doctor about any concerns about the health of your pregnancy.

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