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Multiple births and premature babies

If there is a maternal family history of twins, or you have had fertility treatment to help you get pregnant, then you may be more likely to have a multiple birth.

Twins, triplets and more?

Couples having quadruplets or quintuplets after fertility treatment are rare.

The vast majority of all multiple births are twins. As a rough guide, out of 715,556 total maternities in 2005, 10,553 were twins and just 159 were triplets. Twins occur in two ways:

  • one fertilised egg splits into two, resulting in identical babies
  • two eggs are fertilised at the same time (or at least during the same menstrual cycle) by separate sperm, resulting in non-identical babies

Usually the first time you will know for sure that you are having twins will be when you have your first ultrasound.

Your pregnancy will not be very different to any other.

You may, of course, become bigger than mothers carrying just one baby, and the pregnancy could be shorter. The average length of a twin pregnancy is 37 weeks.

Delivering twins

Mothers delivering twins will be able to do so in the usual (vaginal) way, especially if both babies are head first.

With twins, though, it is more likely that one of the babies will be breech (coming out feet or bottom first), and if it cannot be turned then a caesarean section may be necessary.

Premature babies

Any baby born before 37 weeks is considered premature.

Factors that may cause premature birth include:

  • multiple pregnancy
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • smoking or drug use during pregnancy
  • poor diet during pregnancy
  • pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure combined with protein in the urine, restricts blood flow to the placenta)
  • previous delivery of a premature baby
  • Complications in pregnancy  

Care for premature babies

If your baby or babies are born prematurely they may need special care for the first few weeks of their life. This will often involve them staying in an incubator, which will help them to breathe easily and replicate the conditions of the womb. Feeding is very important at this stage, and breast milk is best.

If you cannot be with your baby all the time then try expressing milk for the nurses to give while you are away. It is very important for you to touch, cuddle and talk to your baby. Even babies in incubators can be touched - just remember to wash and dry your hands thoroughly first.