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The news that you are expecting multiples can come as a big surprise. While some people are delighted, others may be horrified, or anxious at how they will cope.
Don’t panic: not only have other parents been here before you and survived the experience, but they have gone on to thrive with their babies, and so can you.
It may help to ask for a picture of the babies at the first ultrasound. Looking at the picture and showing it to others may help the situation feel more real. Making practical plans can also help. Tamba has information on how to manage your finances, and you can talk to parents of multiples to find out what it’s like – your local Twins Club is a good starting point, or join our online messageboard.
Who has multiples?
Around 12,000 twin births occur each year, with around 200 triplet births and a handful of higher order births. These numbers have been on the increase since 1980, though no one is certain why. Several factors play a role – use of fertility drugs, assisted conception techniques and even maternal age (older mothers are more likely to conceive multiples).
You are more likely to have multiples if there is a maternal history of multiple pregnancies, though the influence of the father’s family history is less clear. What’s certain is that if you already have fraternal (non-identical) twins, triplets or more, then you are five times more likely to carry multiples in your next pregnancy.
Identical or non-identical?
Whether your babies are identical or non-identical depends on how they were formed.
Non-identical twins are created when a woman produces two eggs at the same time and both are fertilised, each by a different sperm. The fertilised egg is called a zygote, and these non-identical twins are known as dizygotic or fraternal twins, because they grew from two separate zygotes. The babies are no more alike than any other brothers or sisters, and may be both male, both female, or one of each.
Identical twins occur in about one-third of multiple pregnancies. Known as monozygotic twins, a single egg is fertilised then splits into two (or, very rarely, three or more) creating identical babies with the same genes, physical features and sex. They may or may not share a placenta. Characteristics such as size and personality depend on non-genetic factors, so may be different.
Triplets and higher order multiples are formed this way too, but may be in different combinations. For example, you may have a set of triplets where two are identical and one is not.
This diagram shows the different combinations of placentas and amnions. Click on the diagram to see a larger version.
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