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Evidence of a link between impaired fertility and increased risk of developmental disorders in children

09 April 2013

Impaired fertility may itself be the reason for developmental disorders in children, rather than infertility treatment such as IVF or ICSI. This is the conclusion drawn by researchers from the Developmental Neurology Department of the UMCG, based on a study of 209 children and their parents.

Children conceived via a technique such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) or injecting a sperm into an egg (ICSI) have an increased risk of being born prematurely or having a low birth weight, possible foreboders of a developmental disorder. The problem is often assumed to stem from the infertility treatment. But Prof. Mijna Hadders-Algra and Jorien Seggers, MD/PhD student, have reached a different conclusion. They claim that impaired fertility itself may be at the root of this effect. Their findings are published in this month’s edition of the scientific journal Archives of Diseases in Childhood.


The researchers assessed the neurological development of 209 two-year-old children. The mothers of all these children had been trying to get pregnant for longer than a year. More than half of the parents had undergone infertility treatment. In the Netherlands, approximately 10-20% of all couples who want children have trouble conceiving.

Link with time

To assess their neurological development, the children’s movement, muscle tone, reflexes, gross and fine motor function, and hand-eye coordination were tested. The researchers found minor developmental disorder in 7% of the children. This figure was higher among the children of the mothers who had taken longer to get pregnant. On average, it had taken the mothers of the children with a minor developmental disorder 4 years to conceive, whereas it had taken the other mothers an average of 2 years and 8 months to conceive.


The researchers took account of other factors that may have influenced fertility, such as the age of the parents and their level of education. These factors did not appear to affect the children’s risk of having a developmental disorder.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.31 p.m.
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