There may be nothing more heartbreaking than trying to have a baby and failing--except perhaps finally succeeding and then discovering that there's something wrong with your child. That's why so many infertile couples were upset last year by a study showing that babies born through in-vitro fertilization had an 8.6% chance of having major birth defects--twice the expected risk.
Now a new study suggests that women who take more than a year to conceive, even those who end up having babies the old-fashioned way, have a greater than normal risk of giving birth prematurely, having a baby with low birth weight or needing a caesarean section. This news comes from a large study--the first of its kind--published in Human Reproduction, of 56,000 women in Denmark. According to Dr. Olga Basso, the lead author, the chance of having a preterm baby was 7.4% for first-time mothers who took longer than a year to get pregnant--about 40% higher than normal.
Of course, women can't always control when they can have a baby--any more than they can control when they fall in love. And would-be parents can take comfort in the fact that their chances of having a healthy child are still quite good, no matter how long it takes.
But the take-home message for couples and doctors alike is that they should have their antennas up if it has taken more than a year to get pregnant. The consequences of premature delivery can be significant: in nearly half the cases of newborns with cerebral palsy or mental retardation, early delivery is the probable cause. There may not be much to do besides watch and wait and take good care of yourself (get regular checkups, take your vitamins, avoid cigarettes and alcohol). But you should definitely make sure your doctor or midwife knows how long you've been trying. --With reporting by A. Chris Gajilan/New York City
Dr. Gupta is a neurosurgeon and CNN medical correspondent