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, you may be more likely to have a multiple birth.

Guidance for pregnant women and information on what is happening in their regional unit during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can be found on NI Maternity

Twins, triplets and more

Couples having quadruplets or quintuplets after fertility treatment are rare. The vast majority of all multiple births are twins. Approximately 1.5 per cent of all pregnancies resulted in a multiple birth with a small number of women having twins or triplets.

Multiple births occur in two ways:

  • one fertilised egg splits into two or more, 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 scan.

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.

Most maternity units can care for you if you are having twins, but you should discuss this with your doctor or midwife.

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.

Most triplets will be born by caesarean section.

 Premature babies

Any baby born before 37 weeks is considered premature.

Twins usually arrive around 37 weeks, weighing in at an average 5.5lbs (2.49kg).

Triplets usually arrive around 34 weeks, weighing in at an average 4lb (1.8kg).

Apart from a multiple pregnancy, factors that may cause premature birth include:

 

Caring 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, try expressing breastmilk 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 hand thoroughly first.

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