Multiple Pregnancy

Experts explain that the reason behind the rise in multiple births is because more women wait until their 30s and 40s to become mothers. According to the March of Dimes, women over 30 conceive multiple babies more often than younger women.

Older women are also more inclined to have fertility treatments which increases the possibility of fertilizing several eggs at the same time. Throw in procedures such as in vitro fertilization, and women who have difficulty conceiving end up with 2 or more babies in one pregnancy.

Risks of multiple births

Multiples are often born premature. The March of Dimes reports that over 50 percent of all twins and more than 90 percent of all triplets are born before they are due – earlier than 37 weeks. Quads and quintuplets are nearly always born premature. The average gestation period for quadruplets is only 29 weeks.

Premature birth usually means many health problems for the babies. Premature multiples often have low birthweights or are undersized (under 5 ½ lbs.). They are underdeveloped, which means they are not prepared for life outside the womb. Premature babies, including single births, usually need to spend a few weeks or even a couple of months in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Low birthweight babies, particularly those born earlier than 32 weeks and weighing less than 3 ½ pounds are at an increased risk for complications such as infections and lasting disabilities. Low birthweight babies (even those who make it to full term) may require extra care both in the hospital and at home. In some extreme cases, undersized babies can develop the same disabilities that affect very premature babies.

Multiples born after 34 weeks generally fair well, while babies born at 26-29 weeks usually just have mild problems. Also, though most premature babies born after 26 weeks survive, premature birth is still the leading cause of death among newborns, reports Seminars in Perinatology. And even when multiples make it to 37 weeks, they are often smaller than single births.

Identical twins are at high risk for another severe condition. Identical twins develop twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. The March of Dimes reports that about 20 percent of identical twins develop this complication wherein the blood flows from one baby to the other through their shared placenta. The result is that one baby receives too much blood, while the other does not get enough. This complication can be fatal for both babies if not treated immediately.

Multiple pregnancy risks for older women

It is not true that multiple pregnancies are more risky for older women. A recent National Institutes of Health study involving 147,400 twin pregnancies and 5,015 triplet pregnancies revealed that babies born to women over 35 did as well as babies born to younger mothers.

The the study also showed that babies born to older women were not at an increased risk of being born prematurely, undersized or, of dying soon after delivery than babies of younger women.

Researchers think that this is due to older mothers’ better-than-average prenatal care. Fertility treatments may also be a factor. Women who conceived with medical assistance are not very likely to bear identical twins, and thus avoiding the risk of twin transfusion syndrome.

What you can do?

Experts suggest taking the following steps to reduce multiple pregnancy risks:

Make sure you get good prenatal care.

Mothers of multiples should see their doctor regularly. Doctors recommend twice/month check ups during the second trimester, and at a weekly visit at the very least, during the third trimester. Women with existing conditions such as diabetes may be required more frequent visits.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Avoid stress, cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine and drugs. Have yourself checked for common vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis. Eat healthy, balanced meals and exercise regularly.

Women should also include supplements in their diet since they are providing nutrients for their babies. Folic acid and iron are the most crucial supplements for a healthy pregnancy. Ask your doctor for appropriate doses.

Weight gain is almost a requirement when carrying multiples. A 24-pound weight gain in the first 24 weeks may significantly reduce the chances of a premature birth or of a low birthweight. Women who were at an ideal weight from the beginning should add bout 35-45 pounds in a twin pregnancy, where as triplets may require a 50-60 -pound weight gain. If you are underweight or overweight, your doctor may set different goals for you.