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All About Twins, Triplets, and More!

It's no surprise that fertility treatments boost your chances of having a bundle of kids, but you're also more likely to have multiples if...

Rachel, Alexa, and Nicole Geoffroy

Jon Ragel

  • You already have children. Although researchers aren't exactly sure why, a woman's chances of having twins increase with each pregnancy.
  • You're older. As you age, your body produces more follicle-stimulating hormone, which can cause your ovaries to "drop" several eggs during each cycle.
  • You're overweight. A study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women with a body mass index over 30 (180 pounds for a 5'5" woman, for example) are twice as likely to have fraternal twins as are thinner women. In addition, the study found that taller women (those over 5'5") are more likely to have fraternal twins than shorter women are.
  • Multiples run in your family. (This is especially true on the mother's side.) In fact, one in 60 female nonidentical twins gives birth to multiples.

Andrea Springer, 22, and her twin sister, Ashlee Means, had a knack for doing things at the same time. But even they were floored when they found out that not only were they both pregnant and due on the same day -- January 1, 2005 -- but they were both having twin boys! "We couldn't stop laughing. It just seemed so unreal!" says Andrea. It's also highly unusual: According to their doctor, James Dopson, MD, at Northside Hospital, in Atlanta, the chance of twins delivering twins on the same day is about one in a million.

Although the twins live in different cities, they wanted to be together when their boys were born. So Ashlee and her 9-month-old son, Brison, flew from Indianapolis to Atlanta and stayed with Andrea, her husband, Nicolas, and their 2-year-old daughter, Candice, for the last three months of their pregnancies. (Ashlee's husband, Bert, joined them shortly before the delivery.)

By early December, Dr. Dopson decided that the women weren't going to make it to their original due date and scheduled a double C-section. So on December 14, the sisters kissed each other goodbye, then went into separate operating rooms. Ashlee gave birth to fraternal twin boys, Brent and Brian; Andrea had identical twin boys, Sean and Jean.

-- Loolwa Khazzoom

When a single egg is fertilized by a single sperm, then divides into two embryos, the result is identical twins. These separate embryos are genetically identical and are always the same sex. Fraternal (or nonidentical) twins occur when two separate eggs are fertilized by two different sperm. The babies will not look exactly alike. Naturally, twins made up of one boy and one girl are always fraternal.

In the case of triplets, quads, and quints, either -- or both -- of the processes above may be involved. For example, one fertilized egg could split three times (resulting in identical triplets), three different eggs could be fertilized by three different sperm (fraternal triplets), or two eggs could be fertilized by two sperm, then one of those eggs could split (fraternal and identical triplets).

Readers share their best advice for surviving feedings, night wake-ups, and public outings.

When our triplets were babies, we bought three different mobiles and installed one above each crib. Then, whenever I needed to clean up around the house or check my e-mail, I would lay the babies down in their cribs and turn on the mobiles. After 10 minutes, I'd rotate the babies so they'd have a different mobile -- with new sights and sounds -- to capture their attention.
Michel Cavicchio
Marblehead, Mass.

I found that making a large batch of formula -- rather than one bottle at a time -- was a huge time-saver. I simply mixed the powdered formula with water and put it in a covered pitcher in the fridge; it stayed good for 12 hours, which usually lasted me two or three feedings. [Most cans of powdered formula have instructions for how to safely mix larger amounts.]
Wendy Penoyer
Flint, Mich.

Getting multiples on the same schedule isn't easy, but I recommend it if you want some sort of order in your day. I fed my twins every three hours for the first two weeks -- even if it meant waking them up. After two weeks, I let them sleep as long as they wanted, but if one woke up to eat, I woke up and fed the other. Pretty soon, they were naturally hungry -- and sleepy -- at the same time.
Crystal Joos
Buxton, Maine

Remember that you don't have to do everything alike for each child; you can always adjust for their preferences as individuals. For example, my son wouldn't breastfeed; he just preferred the bottle. I thought that if I bottle-fed him, I should bottle-feed his twin sister and soon stopped nursing her. Now I totally regret it.
Alissa Beaman
Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

Don't feel pressured to tell every stranger you meet what life is like with multiples. When I'm out with my triplets, I use a technique I call the "talk and walk." I politely answer a question with a one-word response as I keep walking down the street. Trust me; once you have multiples, you won't have time to chat!
Jennifer Seamster
Portsmouth, Va.

Work out a system with your spouse that allows you to get as much sleep as possible. For example, when our twins were born, my husband and I both got up for the middle-of-the-night feedings -- he fed one baby, I fed the other -- so that we were done quicker and could go back to bed. Then, for the early-morning feeding, at about 5 a.m., we took turns getting up and feeding both of them. That way, at least one of us had a few hours of uninterrupted zzz's.
Brenda Smith
Tulsa, Okla.

Originally published in the February 2006 issue of Parents magazine.