Your Pregnancy with Twins or Triplets (or More!)

When Baby Turns Out To Be Babies - Expecting Multiples

You might be still trying to get your head around the news that you are going to have a baby, only to find out that you are expecting more than one! Life doesn't present a surprise as big as this too often!

How soon can you tell that you are expecting multiples?

With more than one baby, comes more than one heartbeat. Midwives can generally pick up the heartbeat by about week 9 of pregnancy using a doppler. An experienced midwife may be able to distinguish additional heartbeats if you are carrying multiples, but this is not always easy and therefore not a reliable confirmation of carrying multiples.

Pregnancy tests which measure the level of the pregnancy hormone hCG sometimes pick up higher levels for multiple pregnancies, however, the average level of hCG in multiple pregnancies is still within the average range of hCG levels for single babies so this is not a strong indication either.

It is true that many pregnant women experience the usual pregnancy side effects to a greater extent i.e. greater fatigue, faster weight gain etc. However, the only reliable way to confirm whether you are carrying multiples is to see your baby (or babies) on the screen at your ultrasound scan. Scans can show multiples as early as 6-8 weeks, but a scan at 12 weeks gives the clearest picture of what you are expecting.

What causes multiples?

There are two ways in which multiple babies are conceived. The more common type is known as fraternal, which occurs as a result of more than one egg being released during the ovulation cycle and going on to become fertilised at the same time. Fraternal multiples then develop their own placentas. The other way in which twins can be conceived is where the single fertilised egg splits and then develops into separate embryos, this process gives identical twins. Identical twins may share a placenta, or they may have one each; this depends on when the egg splits.

What are the chances?

There are a number of factors that influence the likelihood of having twins, triplets or more. The overall statistics put the chances of a UK citizen having twins at about 1.6%.

If you are carrying multiples, then you can expect to hear the question, 'Were they IVF?' time and time again. It is true that fertility treatment does increase your chances of multiples, by as much as 25%, but there are other factors that affect your odds too. For starters, your chances of carrying twins increases with age, and mothers over the age of 35 have about a 2% chance of this happening.

Your chances of having fraternal twins or triplets are also affected by genetics. So, if your mother, or maternal grandmother is one of a set of fraternal twins, then you may be more likely to hyperovulate (meaning that you produce more than one egg at each ovulation cycle).

Race is also considered to be a factor - if you are of Nigerian descent then have a greater chance of carrying multiples. Nigeria is considered to be the 'twins' capital of the world. One Nigerian town in particular boasts a greater than 5% rate of multiple births! There is some speculation that this is, in part, to do with their high consumption of yams. There is no scientific evidence to back this up, but it might be worth a try if you are hoping to conceive twins! On the other side of the coin, women of Asian descent are considered the least likely race to conceive multiples.

Other factors that increase your chances of multiples include your previous number of pregnancies - those women who have had four or more previous pregnancies are more likely to conceive twins. An American study has also indicated that women with a body mass index of 30 or more were more likely to conceive multiples.

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This internet site provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. If you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child, you should always consult a doctor or other healthcare professional.