“When people are imagining a pregnancy, it’s usually a dream that involves just one baby,” explains Dr Roger B Newman, a co-author of When You’re Expecting Twins, Triples or Quads: Proven Guidelines for a Healthy Multiple Pregnancy. “To find out you’re carrying two almost always comes as a shock, but the vast majority of people are thrilled by the process. It just takes a while to soak in.”
Although there are not many statistics available in South Africa, globally, multiple births are on the increase. Currently 3% of all pregnancies result in multiple births, and of these, over 90% are twins. Research shows that naturally conceived twins occur one in every 90 births.
One of the main reasons for natural multiple births is simple – women are waiting longer to start their families.
Women older than 35 produce more follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) than younger women. Produced in the pituitary gland, this hormone prepares your ovaries for ovulation. The same hormone stimulated the production of sperm in men. Higher levels of FSH mean that your body is more likely to release two eggs in a cycle, increasing the chances that both will be fertilised, therefore resulting in a multiple pregnancy. So, while older women are statistically less likely to fall pregnant, they are more likely to fall pregnant with twins.
Actress Gena Davis was 48 when she had twins, and more recently, Amal Clooney was 39 and Beyonce was 36, when both gave birth to twins this year.
How do twins occur:
There are two types of twins: identical and non-identical. Identical twins are formed when one egg is fertilised by one sperm, which then divides into two separate embryos. The babies share the same genetic components, and placenta. Non-identical twins are formed from two separate eggs fertilised by two separate sperm. These are non-identical twins and each have their own placenta.
7 factors that increase your odds:
- You have multiples in your family. Heredity can double your chances of having twins – but only on the mom’s side.
- You have had twins before.
- You are an older mom.
- You have been pregnant before.
- You are currently undergoing, or have previously undergone, fertility treatments. (Research shows that 20 to 25% of women taking ovary-stimulating drugs or undergoing IVF will conceive twins).
- You are carrying a little extra weight. Women with pre-pregnancy BMI higher than 30 are more likely to have fraternal twins. This is because you may have higher levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF), which boosts ovulation by upping the sensitivity of ovaries to FSH.
- You are tall. Again, researchers believe this is due to the fact that taller women have higher levels of IGF.
Two babies, now what?
Yes, multiples are higher risk pregnancies but today’s technology means that twin and multiple pregnancies are picked up early. The good news is that that a twin or multiple pregnancy will be closely monitored and these risks mitigated.
- You will need more nutrients.
- You will spend more time visiting your doctor – but this means you get to see your babies more often on ultrasound.
- Your shape will change – a lot. After all, you are growing two lives.
- Your nose and gums may bleed, due to extra blood flow and raging hormones.
- Your wrists may hurt. This is due to the increased blood flow that may cause the median nerve in your wrists to become compressed.
- You are at an increased risk of pre-eclampsia, preterm labour and PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques), a red itchy rash that may occur in your third trimester. However, your caregivers will monitor these closely.
The idea of having twins or multiples may be a shock, or even scary. But, know that you are not alone. There are a number of support groups and associations of parents going through the exact thing you are – who can help and guide you.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.