RENO, NV - According to a recent report from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), the number of babies born in the United States through in vitro fertilization is at an all-time high. In 2012, IVF babies made up about 1.5% of the total number of babies born. That's the highest percentage since the procedure was first introduced more than three decades ago.
Across the country in 2012, fertility clinics conducted 165,172 in vitro procedures. Out of the estimated 3.9 million babies born in the U.S. in 2012, 61,740 babies were so called 'test-tube' babies. That's 2,000 more than in 2011.
Part of the increase may be due to more women delaying child birth. In the United States, the average age for a first time mother is now 26 compared to the average age of 21 when the first IVF procedure was done.
At the Nevada Center for Reproductive Medicine, Doctor Scott Whitten says another reason for the increase in IVF births is advancement in technology. For years, fertility doctors were criticized for the practice of inserting multiple embryos at one time to increase the odds of pregnancy which often resulted in triplets and even higher multiples, with dangerously low birth weights and other health risks.
Now thanks to better growing conditions for the embryos and advancements in the field, doctors are able to look at the chromosomes of the embryo before implanting it into the mother. This practice allows them the find the healthiest embryo with the best chance of survival; allowing them to implant fewer embryos at a time.
"So when you transfer fewer, hopefully that means fewer twin and triplet pregnancies," Dr. Whitten said.
He says they've been successful in reducing the number of triplets born over the past few years. The next hurdle is to reduce the number of twins. Dr. Whitten says that will result in fewer miscarriages and healthier pregnancies.
"Hopefully there will come a time when we have even stronger embryos, and know the chromosome information about embryos, that we can transfer just a single embryo in everybody because that would obviously reduce the number of twins that result from the procedures we provide," he said.
The study from SART shows the number of embryos implanted at one time dropped between 2011 and 2012.
Critics of IVF say the numbers, particularly the success rates, mask wide disparities. They point out women over the age of 35 have the highest percentage of failed IVF procedures. In older women, fewer than half of the IVF procedures resulted in a live birth.
Dr. Whitten says that best chance for a successful IVF is to get treatment early. He says the average, healthy 26-year-old couple should seek medical help if they can't get pregnant after a year of trying.