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Preparing for Multiple Births


Over the past two decades, there's been a phenomenal rise in the number of multiple births in the United States. Between 1980 and 2004, the number of twin births increased by 70% and the number of births involving three or more babies has quadrupled.

What's responsible for this dramatic rise in multiple births? And how should you prepare for your own multiple birth experience?

The Miracle of Multiples
Several factors contribute to the development of a multiple pregnancy:

Heredity:A history of multiple births on a woman's side of the family increases her chances of having a multiple pregnancy.

Race: Women of African descent are the most likely to have multiple pregnancies.

Number of prior pregnancies: Having more than one previous pregnancy, especially a multiple pregnancy, increases the chance of having a multiple pregnancy.

Delayed childbearing: Older women who get pregnant are more likely to have multiples.

Infertility treatment: Fertility drugs, which stimulate the ovaries to release multiple eggs, or assisted reproductive technology (ART), which transfers multiple embryos into the womb (such as in vitro fertilization, or IVF), greatly increase a woman's chance of having a multiple pregnancy.

It's the last two factors that have been on the rise in the last couple of decades and are probably responsible for the increase in multiple births.

The Types of Multiples
There are two types of twins: monozygotic (identical) and dizygotic (fraternal).

Identical twins result from a single fertilized egg dividing into separate halves and continuing to develop into two separate but identical babies. These twins are genetically identical, with the same chromosomes and similar physical characteristics. They're the same sex and have the same blood type, hair, and eye color.

Fraternal twins come from two eggs that are fertilized by two separate sperm and are no more alike than other siblings born to the same parents. They may or may not be the same sex. This type of twins is much more common, and only this type is affected by heredity, maternal age, race, and number of prior pregnancies.

"Supertwins" is a common term for triplets and other higher-order multiple births, such as quadruplets or quintuplets. These babies can be identical, fraternal, or a combination of both. But higher-order births are rare; triplets occur in approximately 1 in 7,000 to 8,000 births, whereas quintuplets are likely to be born only once in 47 million births.
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