ABU DHABI // Couples trying to become pregnant through in-vitro fertilisation are having too many embryos implanted, neonatal experts say.
And the resulting number of complicated and multiple births is causing a shortage of hospital beds for sick babies.
“I look after too many sick babies and plenty are from multiple pregnancies,” said Dr Julian Eason, chair of neonatology at Abu Dhabi’s Corniche Hospital.
Dr Eason said implanting several embryos did not boost the chances of becoming pregnant, but added to the risk of multiple births, where babies often needed long stays in intensive care.
He said one embryo was best and two should be the maximum, “but we have three or four-plus embryos that are put back.
“I think when people are desperate to have a baby, things go out the window.”
Neonatal intensive care units are always full, experts say.
Shirley Hargreaves, assistant director of nursing at Corniche Hospital, said there were many myths about IVF.
“People are ill advised,” Ms Hargreaves said. “When it comes to embryos, they think it is the more the merrier.
“We have seen an increase in recent years of multiple births and, with an increasing population, there is more demand for IVF.
“We need to tell people that multiple pregnancies are risky and you don’t improve your chance of a successful IVF whether you put one or two embryos back. You are equally likely to get pregnant with one embryo as you are with two.”
But the risks with multiple pregnancies are higher.
“It is actually a very dangerous thing to do because multiple pregnancies tend to come with complications, even with twins,” Ms Hargreaves said. “We have an unprecedented number of twins and triplets through IVF.”
In 50 per cent of all twin deliveries, one baby will require an admission to Nicu.
Of the hundreds of twins and triplets delivered at Corniche Hospital last year, 169 babies born in a set of twins and 69 born in a set of triplets were admitted to the Nicu.
Multiple pregnancies are far more likely to lead to premature births, with an increased risk of complications and defects.
Complicated multiple pregnancies are particularly high in the UAE compared with elsewhere in the world, because IVF is readily available here, said Dr Eason.
Nicus are consequently at stretching point in the emirate and across the country.
Corniche Hospital, Mafraq Hospital and Al Rahba Hospital in Abu Dhabi, and Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, are the only ones in the emirate to offer specialised intensive neonatal care and are always full, said Dr Eason.
“Corniche Hospital is always over full,” he said. “It is the default hospital. When everyone else says no, we say yes.”
Ms Hargreaves said this often meant squeezing extra babies into an overcrowded Nicu.
“We are known as the safety net,” she said.
While the Corniche Hospital’s unit has expanded over the years and aims to increase its capacity when it moves to its new site in the coming years, Dr Eason said there remained a shortfall in the interim.
About 8,000 babies are delivered every year at Corniche Hospital. Of those, about 1,000 are admitted to the neonatal-care unit.
Apart from premature babies, they can also be full-term babies who have congenital malfunctions or chromosomal abnormalities.
Babies born to diabetics often need help because of poorly controlled blood sugar in their mother, Dr Eason said.
Updated: November 22, 2014 04:00 AM