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Number of twins being born through IVF in Britain falls to all-time low of just 6%

Number of twins being born through IVF in Britain falls to all-time low of just 6% in ‘major success’ for healthcare, fertility regulator warns

  • Just six per cent of births after the treatment involved multiple children in 2019 
  • This was down from highs of 28 per cent of IVF births at the start of the 1990s 
  • Having twins can carry greater health risks for mothers and children during birth










The number of twins being born through IVF in Britain has fallen to an all-time low, the fertility regulator revealed today. 

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) found just six per cent of births from the treatment involved multiple children in 2019. 

This was down from highs of 28 per cent in the 1990s, with the huge plunge hailed by experts as being a ‘major success’ for UK healthcare.

Having twins carries greater health risks for both mothers and children during birth, including late miscarriage, premature delivery and stillbirth. 

In-vitro fertilisation works by fertilising eggs in a lab before reinserting the embryos into a womb, after which the pregnancy goes forward as normal.

It usually carries a higher chance of producing twins or triplets than conventional conception because of the number of embryos implanted into the uterus during the treatment.

But rates have been falling consistently for around 30 years due to doctors ditching procedures using more than one embryo. 

The HFEA banned women under 40 from receiving three embryos during treatment in 2003 unless in exceptional circumstances. And 15 years ago it started a campaign to encourage clinics to reduce the number of double-embryo transfers.

Its report also showed IVF success rates have improved consistently since the 1990s.

The number of twins being born after IVF treatment in Britain has fallen to an all-time low, the fertility regulator revealed today. Graph shows: The proportion of births after IVF treatment that were twins from 1991 to 2019 in the UK

Having twins or more babies at once can carry greater health risks for mothers and children, including late miscarriage, premature delivery and still birth. Graph shows: The proportion of babies born prematurely and at term when only children (left) and twin (right) in the UK from 2015 to 2019

Having twins or more babies at once can carry greater health risks for mothers and children, including late miscarriage, premature delivery and still birth. Graph shows: The proportion of babies born prematurely and at term when only children (left) and twin (right) in the UK from 2015 to 2019

Rates of twins in IVF children have been falling due to more cases of just one fertilised egg being used, increasing from 13 per cent of IVF cycles in 1991 to three quarters in 2019. The HFEA banned women under 40 from receiving three embryos during treatment in 2003 unless in exceptional circumstances. And in 2007 it started the 'One at a time' campaign to encourage clinics to reduce the number of double-embryo transfers Graph shows: The proportion of single embryo transfers in different age groups in Britain

Rates of twins in IVF children have been falling due to more cases of just one fertilised egg being used, increasing from 13 per cent of IVF cycles in 1991 to three quarters in 2019. The HFEA banned women under 40 from receiving three embryos during treatment in 2003 unless in exceptional circumstances. And in 2007 it started the ‘One at a time’ campaign to encourage clinics to reduce the number of double-embryo transfers Graph shows: The proportion of single embryo transfers in different age groups in Britain

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's (HFEA) report showed the multiple birth rate for private patients was higher than those on the NHS for all age groups

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s (HFEA) report showed the multiple birth rate for private patients was higher than those on the NHS for all age groups

HFEA chair Julia Chain said: ‘This is a major success for UK healthcare.

‘Multiple births can be dangerous for both patients and unborn babies and can put an additional burden on the NHS.

‘Multiple births were the biggest single health risk from IVF treatment and that is why we have campaigned for this since 2007 working closely with health professionals and fertility clinics.

‘The numbers of babies born from IVF has continued to rise, confirming implanting more than one embryo does not decrease a patient’s chance of having a baby.’

The number of mothers giving birth to multiple babies after IVF treatment remained fairly consistent at around 29 per cent before 2000.

After the regulatory changes in 2003, the rate dropped to around 23 per cent.

But the figure then started to decline rapidly in 2017, falling to below 10 per cent for the first time in 2017. 

All age groups saw a rate of less than 10 per cent in 2019, with the biggest reduction in women aged under 35 — from 27 per cent in 2007 to six per cent in 2019.  

The fall in twin births is a major boost for the NHS, the HFEA said, because of the smaller risk of birth complications.

IVF treatment is available on the health service to women under 43 who have been trying to conceive through regular unprotected sex for two years.

People can also pay for IVF privately, which can cost more than £5,000 for a single cycle, according to the NHS. 

Ms Chain said: ‘The lower number of multiple births should be celebrated but we cannot be complacent as we know this is not the case in every fertility clinic.

‘We will continue to monitor multiple birth rates from fertility treatment and encourage clinics to review their multiple birth strategies, particularly in relation to patients from ethnic minority groups as we want to achieve a level playing field for all patients.’

HOW DOES IVF WORK? 

In-vitro fertilisation, known as IVF, is a medical procedure in which a woman has a fertilised egg inserted into her womb to become pregnant.

It is used when couples are unable to conceive naturally, and a sperm and egg are removed from their bodies and combined in a laboratory before the embryo is inserted into the woman.

Once the embryo is in the womb, the pregnancy should continue as normal.

The procedure can be done using eggs and sperm from a couple or those from donors. 

Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that IVF should be offered on the NHS to women under 43 who have been trying to conceive through regular unprotected sex for two years.

People can also pay for IVF privately, which costs an average of £3,348 for a single cycle, according to figures published in January 2018, and there is no guarantee of success.

The NHS says success rates for women under 35 are about 29 per cent, with the chance of a successful cycle reducing as they age.

Around eight million babies are thought to have been born due to IVF since the first ever case, British woman Louise Brown, was born in 1978.

Chances of success

The success rate of IVF depends on the age of the woman undergoing treatment, as well as the cause of the infertility (if it’s known).

Younger women are more likely to have a successful pregnancy. 

IVF isn’t usually recommended for women over the age of 42 because the chances of a successful pregnancy are thought to be too low. 

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