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IVF myths: What’s the real story behind In Vitro Fertilization?

When it comes to Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), there are plenty of myths and misinformation out there. Some say that these medical interventions increase your chances of multiple births, while others say your baby will be at an increased risk of birth defects. If you’ve been struggling to conceive in China, it can be reassuring to know that world-class In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) services are available. But how much do you really know about it?

In this week’s article, Pacific Prime China looks at some of the IVF myths that have persisted despite the many advances the medical profession has made to make these treatments a miracle for numerous aspiring parents.

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A short history of IVF

IVF is a process that many families turn to when natural conception is a challenge. This can happen for a number of reasons. Some women struggle to conceive due to medical conditions like endometriosis, while others have reached an age that makes it harder to become pregnant. Men, also, can be the cause of infertility. Some may have a decreased sperm count or low sperm mobility. Both parents may also have genetic disorders impacting their conception success rates, and sometimes there are just some inexplicable reasons for not being able to conceive.

In the early days of IVF, there was very little information available to the public about the how and why such treatments worked. People referred to the children of IVF treatments as “test tube babies”, early families were very secretive about their decision to pursue these revolutionary conception methods, and many more considered the process “unnatural”. The stigma around IVF persisted for decades. People felt it was the peak of a slippery slope into “designer babies” and potential human cloning, however ART drove onwards to better refine and streamline the IVF process.

Thankfully, these days people are more comfortable with IVF treatments following recent decades of it creating many successful, happy families. What was previously a demanding and lengthy process for women and medical professionals, modern IVF is a much faster and comfortable experience. There are no longer three-hourly urine collections, and no need for women to crouch agonizingly for hours after egg collection. Men have also benefited from advances that have seen it possible for fertilization to occur via direct sperm injection into an egg.

Common misconceptions and IVF myths

There are still many IVF myths that continue to cast a doubtful shadow over the process. IVF has assisted in the birth of more than 6.5 million babies since Louise Brown, the first IVF baby born in 1978, and its frequency has made it little more than an everyday treatment for medical clinics and professionals. Yet, these common misconceptions continue to concern and worry many parents who may be looking at IVF support.

1. IVF almost always leads to multiple pregnancies

One of the longest-standing IVF myths is that those undertaking treatment should expect twins, triplets, or more. As we all know, the cost of raising a single baby is a lot; so having twins or even quintuplets can multiply that cost by the number of babies conceived. This myth can leave many concerned that seeking IVF treatment will leave them in a position they can’t financially support, however the truth is that it’s not necessarily IVF that causes multiple births.

According to an article by NPR, the rate of triplets and higher-order births for both IVF and naturally conceived pregnancies has been equalizing over the past decade. The rate of those types of pregnancies occurring from non-IVF treatments, however, has increased a lot. The reason for this is that fertility drugs are the culprit; drugs that increase a woman’s egg count to improve fertility chances are driving the rise in multiple pregnancies. While it is still true that multiple births do occur more frequently in IVF pregnancies, just over 20% of all triplet births in 2011 were a result of natural conception, while IVF accounted for just over 30%.

asian woman holds her pregnant belly in front of a green wall, representing a woman who overcame IVF myths and successfully became pregnant using ART

2. IVF babies are at a higher risk of birth defects and malformations

Understanding the link between IVF pregnancies and birth defects is still largely under review. While some previous studies have suggested that a woman’s likelihood of delivering a malformed child is higher through IVF, more recent investigations suggest that it might be the factors leading a woman to use IVF that maintains her high risk of having a baby with a birth defect. A New England Journal of Medicine study found that 8.3% of children born using ART had suffered some form of birth defect, while it was only 5.8% for naturally conceived children.

However, when accounting and controlling for other factors that could increase birth defect risks, the study showed that children born using IVF treatment were not associated with greater odds. Researchers instead found that intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) increased the risk of a birth defect by 57%, however it was not yet understood if this was due to the technique itself, or due to the male infertility issues it aims to assist with. It should be noted too that techniques, like ICSI, are also constantly being improved to ensure better safety and effectiveness.

3. IVF is not safe

When it comes to IVF treatment, there is a very small risk of developing Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHS). This is where the ovaries become swollen and painful, and accompanied with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, a lack of appetite, or feelings of bloatedness. In severe cases, nausea or abdominal pain can be significant, and you may encounter urinary issues, become short of breath, and notice a sudden amount of weight gained. OHS develops in as little as 2% of IVF patients and, in most cases, only mild symptoms are experienced. There is a very small risk of severe conditions developing, leading to serious illness or death.

There are also the general risks involved with receiving anesthesia, which can be used during egg retrieval and laparoscopy. However, the claim that the procedure is not safe can be one of the most common over-exaggerated IVF myths that has persisted over time.

4. IVF fails more often than it succeeds

For some ART procedures, the average success rate can be as little as 10-15% per cycle. While IVF is not a guaranteed success, the average pregnancy rate after an embryo transfer is about 30% per cycle, with a cumulative success rate of 60% by 3-6 cycles. That’s not to say that IVF will work every time. Some people will find conceiving a struggle even with IVF support due to factors such as age, cause of infertility, as well as biological and hormonal conditions.

5. Health insurance won’t cover IVF

One of the most confusing IVF myths is the idea that insurance companies do not cover IVF. It is true that IVF is expensive, and many insurers may view IVF coverage as a costly benefit. When it comes to insurers that do offer In Vitro Fertilization coverage, it’s important to note that not all plans will cover every IVF treatment stage. Some may only offer benefits for examination and fertility testing, while others may offer full coverage of treatment and medication. For China in particular, hopeful parents should consider their insurance options carefully as part of their maternity planning to ensure they get the coverage they need.

Learning more about IVF treatments and insurance in China

Choosing to pursue IVF treatment in China is a big decision. Given the costs and IVF myths, you’ll want to be as well prepared as possible. To help, Pacific Prime China has a handy guide on what to expect. Our In Vitro Fertilization 2017-2018 Guide has a wealth of knowledge that parents will likely find useful, and answers some of the most commonly asked questions about IVF:

  • Is In Vitro Fertilization a common treatment in China?
  • Are there any differences in IVF services between Shanghai and Beijing?
  • How much does IVF treatment cost in China?
  • Will my health insurance plan provide coverage?

Our expert consultants have been providing both locals and expats in China with robust and comprehensive insurance solutions for almost two decades. We’re experienced in all things related to health insurance, including maternity and IVF coverage. Our IVF guide was produced in order to maintain our stellar reputation for simplifying insurance, and it’s available free for you here.

For a free insurance quote or to discuss what your coverage options might be before getting pregnant, contact the team at Pacific Prime China today!

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Disclaimer: Pacific Prime China solely represents, operates and manages locally regulated insurance products and services in the territory of PR China. Any references to Pacific Prime Global Company or Group, the international services, insurance products or otherwise stated written or verbally, is for introduction purposes about our overseas network only as each entity is fully independent.