Children conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF) score at least as well as non-IVF peers on academic tests in grades 3 through 12, according to a new study by the University of Iowa.

In fact, the study shows that children who were conceived by IVF actually performed better than age- and gender-matched peers on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Iowa Test for Educational Development (ITBS/ED).

Lead study author Bradley Van Voorhis and his team wanted to find out if being conceived by IVF produced any long-term negative effects on children’s intellectual development compared to their peers.

So they examined the academic performance of 423 Iowa children, ages 8 to 17, conceived by IVF at UI Hospitals and Clinics and compared their scores with 372 age- and gender-matched peers from the same Iowa schools.

The researchers also factored in different characteristics of the children, parents or IVF methods to see if these affected the children’s test scores.

The study found that IVF children actually performed above average on standardized tests compared to their peers, and that many factors could be linked to these higher test scores, including an older mother, higher education levels of both parents and lower divorce rates.

Importantly, the results revealed that different IVF procedures — using frozen versus fresh embryos — and various methods of insemination had no effect on academic test scores.

“Our findings are reassuring for clinicians and patients as they suggest that being conceived through IVF does not have any detrimental effects on a child’s intelligence or cognitive development,” said Van Voorhis, UI professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the Center for Advanced Reproductive Care at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Although the study was not able to fully explain why children conceived by IVF performed better than their peers, Van Voorhis speculated that parents of children conceived by IVF might be older and have higher levels of education than average.

“By using age- and gender-matched children from the same classrooms as a control group to compare to our study participants, we attempted to control for any socioeconomic or environmental differences between the children born by IVF and their peers,” Van Voorhis said.

“But there still may have been some differences between the IVF children and the controls that we could not see from our data.”

Among children conceived by IVF, the researchers did find poorer test scores for multiple births.  Single babies performed better than twins, who performed better than triplets. However, this trend was not statistically significant and the triplets still had higher scores than the average non-IVF children.

“This trend fits with our thinking that singleton births are healthier than multiple births, but we would need further study to find out if this trend is a real effect,” Van Voorhis said.

IVF technology has only been used for about 30 years, so there is a lack of information on long-term health outcomes for children conceived this way.  This study is the largest to date and followed children to an older age than earlier studies.

The study is published in the October issue of the journal Human Reproduction.

In addition to Van Voorhis, the UI team included Lindsay Mains, M.D., M. Bridget Zimmerman, Ph.D., Jill Blaine, Barbara Stegmann, M.D., Amy Sparks, Ph.D., and Timothy Ansley, Ph.D.

Source: The University of Iowa