Laura Johnson and Jayne Howarth
Women who decide to seek medical help to have children face a number of dilemmas.
One of the biggest is whether to gamble on the success of treatment by allowing doctors to implant multiple embryos. This can easily lead to twins, triplets or more.
In many wealthy parts of Britain, the number of twins and triplets has increased massively because of this.
And while from a distance twins or triplets may seem cute, they face big risks during pregnancy, they may be born below size - and they are also expensive.
So there has been a drive to reduce the number of these multiple births - and it is paying off, it was revealed today.
The figures released by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which introduced a policy for fertility clinics to increase in single embryo transfers, have been hailed as “excellent news”.
The HFEA has campaigned for a reduction in multiple births since 2007 because of the risks to mothers and babies associated with multiple births and fertility treatment.
Since January 2008 just 4.8 per cent of embryo transfers were single embryo transfer, but in the first half of 2010, this increased to 14.7 per cent.
Over the same period, the number of multiple pregnancies fell from 26.7 per cent to 22 per cent, while the overall pregnancy rate maintained at 31.3 per cent.
Between 2008 and mid 2009, multiple births fell from 23.6 per cent of all IVF births to 22 per cent.
The latest figures show that the biggest fall in multiple pregnancies – 31.2 per cent to 23.9 per cent – is among women under 35 years old. The proportion of single transfers has increased from 6.6 per cent in 2008 to 22.1 per cent by June 2010.
Prof Lisa Jardine, chair of the HFEA, said: “It is excellent news that the number of multiple births is coming down whilst overall success rates for patients are still being maintained.”
She said the figures proved the policy was working.
“We have set a challenging target for the year ahead and will work closely with the sector to help clinics to meet the target, and at the same time retain patients’ confidence that their chance of success will not be significantly reduced,” she added.
Jane Denton, director of the Multiple Births Foundation said: “There is no doubt that a multiple pregnancy creates risks for both mother and babies. The good news is that the strategy is working and a great strength is the collaboration and partnership between the regulator, the clinics and the patients and professional organisations
The HFEA set a multiple birth rate target of 24 per cent in 2009/10 and this was cut to 20 per cent in 2010/2011. In April this year, the target to 2012 was decreased again to 15 per cent.