The following is a guest post by Susan M. Heim.
When I became pregnant with twins about 7 years ago, I had a lot of questions. The biggest one was “How did this happen?!” I had no family history of twins, and I wasn’t undergoing treatment for infertility. So, why twins? Just lucky, I guess. But over the years, I’ve received a lot of questions from people who are equally mystified by twins. So, here are answers to five questions that I hear most often:
Can you breastfeed twins?
Yes! Most women can generate enough of a milk supply to successfully breastfeed twins. However, it’s best to learn how to nurse both babies at the same time or else Mom will be nursing most of the day! Many women end up supplementing with formula or pumping breastmilk just so they can get some help in feeding their babies. There is also a lot more “chart-keeping” involved. Moms of multiples are advised to switch sides (to ensure that each baby is being nourished equally), and it’s often difficult to remember who was fed last on which side when you’re sleep-deprived! So, a good chart is a must. Another problem is that twins are often premature and need to stay in the hospital after Mom goes home. Often, she’ll need to pump breastmilk for her babies until they’re released.
Do twins run in families?
Yes and no. The current thinking is that identical twins are just a fluke. An egg splits in two, creating two identical babies. Fraternal twins, however, are the result of two separate eggs. A woman may inherit the tendency to release more than one egg during her monthly cycle, increasing her chances for having twins. Therefore, you’ll more often find that fraternal twins appear to run in some families. However, I’ve had plenty of people tell me that they have quite a few identical twins in their family tree, too! So, we’re not sure why that happens…
Is a twin pregnancy risky?
Yes, or at least it’s generally considered “riskier” than a normal pregnancy with one baby. Most doctors will automatically classify their patients expecting twins as “high risk.” They’re monitored much more closely (usually with monthly ultrasounds, sometimes more), and often see a specialist. Premature labor and birth are more common with twins, and many women are put on bed rest. They’re also at greater risk for gestational diabetes. If a woman is pregnant with identical twins who share a placenta, they may develop Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS), which can be fatal for one or both babies or put them at higher risk for serious health conditions. When I hear women say, “I want to be pregnant with twins,” I tell them it is a serious situation that is not without risk.
Do you ever get your twins mixed up?
My twins are fraternal and look very different, so that’s not a challenge for me. Most parents of identical twins will probably tell you they rarely get their twins mixed up, especially as they get older and develop certain personality traits, mannerisms, physical differences, etc. However, parents of newborns sometimes have problems. Many parents of newborn twins will keep the babies’ hospital bracelets on a little longer until they’re certain they can tell them apart. Or they use certain tricks, such as always dressing each baby in a certain color, or painting a toenail a particular shade. There have been cases where parents have rushed their identical twins back to the doctor to identify them. (Oddly, identical twins have different fingerprints.) Parents are also advised to label their babies’ pictures right away because they may not be able to tell “who’s who” when they look at the photos years later.
Twins seem to be everywhere these days. Why?
One year, in my boys’ Sunday school class of 12 children, there were 4 sets of twins! Greater use of treatments for infertility, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and fertility drugs, increase the potential for conceiving twins. Not only are more people making use of these treatments, but they are becoming more successful as medical science advances. Another factor is “advanced maternal age.” More women are having children after the age of 35, a time when their ovulation becomes more unpredictable. During this time, they’re more likely to ovulate more than one egg during their cycle. Apparently, that’s what happened to me when I had my twins at age 39!
Susan M. Heim is the author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More; It’s Twins! Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence; and, Twice the Love: Stories of Inspiration for Families with Twins, Multiples and Singletons. She has more information about twins and multiples at www.TwinsTalk.com, and she blogs about general parenting at http://susanheim.blogspot.com. Susan is the mother of four sons, including a set of twins.