Multiples are termed a ‘high-risk’ pregnancy. The most immediate risk is pre-term (early) labour resulting in premature birth. A normal gestation is about 40 weeks, but a twin pregnancy often lasts between 35 and 37 weeks.
Nearly half of all twins are born before 37 weeks. Triplets are commonly born around 32-34 weeks, and quads at 30 weeks. A stay in an incubator for one, both or all babies may be necessary.
In addition to the possibility of premature births, other medical conditions that are more likely to occur during a multiple pregnancy include pre-eclampsia, placental problems, and foetal growth problems. Multiple births can also be associated with long-term health problems in the infants. Developmental delays and cerebral palsy occur more commonly in twins than in single births, and there’s a higher risk of health problems with higher-order multiple births.
Preparing for multiple births
When you fall pregnant with multiples, you may need more pre-birth check-ups than you would with a single baby. Be prepared for the possibility of experiencing a double dose of everything – higher levels of hormones can mean more severe morning sickness.
Multiples place greater stress on your body: with twins, a weight gain of 20 kg isn’t unusual. You can expect symptoms such as heartburn, indigestion, shortness of breath and extreme fatigue.
Prepare yourself emotionally that you may give birth prematurely, says Lousanne Terblanche, seminar co-ordinator of the South African Multiple Birth Association (SAMBA). Your hospital bag should be ready and packed by 28 weeks. Plan to take maternity leave from 30-32 weeks, and aim to take five to six months off if possible, she suggests. Organise your home so that the babies’ routines can be managed as easily as possible.
“From 28 weeks of pregnancy, rest a lot with your feet in the air. Sleep on your back with pillows piled under your feet or on your side with a pillow between your knees and a pillow under your stomach.”
“It is possible to have a natural twin birth if the circumstances around your pregnancy are optimal.”