Women unaware of increased health risks associated with multiple pregnancy

09 July 2008

Women are unaware of the increased health risks that are associated with multiple pregnancy, a new survey has found. The survey, which was conducted to support the One at a Time national strategy, was carried out amongst the general public to establish women’s attitudes to fertility treatment and multiple pregnancy.

The single biggest risk

One in four births in the UK following IVF treatment result in either twins or triplets. Elective single embryo transfer in appropriate women will help minimise the potential risks to both mother and child and help achieve the aim of all fertility treatment, which is the birth of a healthy singleton child. Single embryo transfer is not however necessarily suitable for everyone, and will only be recommended to those women whose clinicians feel confident that there is a good chance of them conceiving with one embryo. This assessment is made on a number of factors including age, quality of embryos and fertility treatment history.

The majority of women aged 18 to 44 (90%) who participated in the survey said they were unaware of the health risks associated with multiple pregnancy and that this was the single biggest risk of fertility treatment. In comparison, 40% of women considered that the biggest risk would be the emotional challenge of undergoing fertility treatment.

Nearly a quarter of young women aged 18 to 24 (23%) said they were unaware that multiple pregnancy increased the risk of the babies being affected by long term conditions like cerebral palsy and that the mother could be at greater risk from complications such as late miscarriage, high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia and haemorrhage.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, a leading women's health GP, supports the One at a Time national strategy which aims to reduce the risk of multiple pregnancy from fertility treatment.

She said: "Every pregnancy carries risk, but the extra risks to mothers and their babies caused by multiple pregnancies as a result of fertility treatment can be avoided in many cases. When undertaking IVF, it is routine practice for at least two embryos to be implanted into the womb during a cycle of treatment. Unfortunately, there are significant health risks for both mother and babies in multiple pregnancies, and women need to weigh up these risks carefully before proceeding with implantation of more than one embryo. They should explore the most appropriate options with their fertility doctor, such as elective single embryo transfer, as to how best manage and reduce the potential risks."


The survey revealed that a quarter (25%) of women thought the best thing about having twins is the fact that you have an 'instant family'. Almost half (46%) felt the biggest challenge of having twins would be having to look after more than one baby. Whilst alarmingly, only one percent recognised the potential long-term health problems as the biggest challenge.

Despite the increased health risks, however, one in four (25%) women aged between 18 and 44 said they would opt for twins as the ideal outcome of fertility treatment.

Jane Denton, Director of the Multiple Birth Foundation, said: “For those who have been through or are embarking on the emotional rollercoaster of fertility treatment, the idea of having an ‘instant family’ may be very appealing.”

“We must raise awareness around the health risks and consequences of multiple pregnancy so that patients, professionals and the public understand why the aim of each IVF treatment cycle should be to give the best chance of having one live, healthy baby. The One at a Time initiative and its website http://www.oneatatime.org.uk, provides authoritative information to help them make informed decisions about treatment.”

Clare Brown, Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK (INUK), said: “We recognise that fertility treatment is a physical, emotional and financial challenge with the ultimate outcome being a safe pregnancy and the birth of a healthy child. With this in mind, we would encourage all women who are thinking about undergoing fertility treatment to discuss with their doctor or fertility clinic the increased health risks to both them and their babies and the likelihood of multiple pregnancy, so that they can make an informed decision based on the facts that are presented to them.”

A total of 332 women aged 18 to 44 were surveyed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to find out their attitudes to fertility treatment and multiple pregnancy.

Notes to Editors

• In 2005, 32,626 patients underwent fertility treatment, resulting in 11,262 children being born following IVF*
• One in four births after IVF in the UK result in either twins or triplets. Drug treatments also increase multiple pregnancy
• One At A Time is supported by the Association of Clinical Embryologists, British Fertility Society, British Infertility Counselling Association, Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Infertility Network UK, Multiple Births Foundation, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
• Further information for patients, professionals and members of the public can be found on the One at a Time website 

*2005 is the latest year for which full treatment and birth figures are available. Source – HFEA.

For further information contact:

Danny Stepto
Red Door Communications
Tel: 020 8392 8042
Email: dstepto@rdcomms.com


Paul Hutchings
Red Door Communications
Tel: 020 8392 8056
Email: phutchings@rdcomms.com