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Is the Risk of Birth Injury Higher with Twins and Triplets?

Michael Becker

Most pregnancies result in happy, healthy babies. But sometimes things don’t go as planned and the baby sustains an injury during the birthing process. Most often, this occurs during passage through the birth canal. Fortunately, many birth injuries are minor and resolve without any specific treatment. Others are more serious and involve fractured bones and/or damaged nerves and even brain damage. Spinal cord injuries, for example, can have lifelong consequences. Is the risk of birth injury higher with twins and triplets? Let’s find out.

What’s the difference between birth injury, birth trauma, and birth defect?

Birth defects occur when the baby is developing in the mother’s womb. They are caused by exposure to toxins, infections, or genetic mutations. The medical community often uses the terms birth injury and birth trauma interchangeably. In legal terminology, a birth injury is sustained during pregnancy or labor and delivery. Birth trauma refers to mechanical damage (for example, broken bones or damaged nerves) suffered during the birthing process.

How common is a twin or triplet pregnancy?

It is estimated that 5 in 1,000 live births are twins and 5 in 100,000 live births are triplets. However, the twin and triplet birth rate tends to fluctuate with changing social trends. Over the past few decades, delayed childbearing and rising maternal age has led to the increased use of ovulation-enhancing drugs and assisted reproduction techniques like IVF. In vitro fertilization is associated with a higher rate of multiple births.

What are the complications of twin and triplet pregnancies?

Statistics show that multiple births are associated with a higher risk of complications than singleton babies. One of the most common complications of twin or triplet pregnancies is preterm labor. Babies born prematurely (before 37 weeks) do not have mature organs and need help breathing and feeding. Babies born before 28 weeks are even more vulnerable. Low birthweight infants are at higher risk of infections and require care in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit).

Is the risk of birth injury higher with twins and triplets?

With a twin or triplet pregnancy, the method of delivery is an important consideration. The majority of twins and almost all triplets are born by C-section. It is, however, possible to have a vaginal birth with twins. The jury is out on whether cesareans are riskier than vaginal deliveries. Although the infant mortality rate of twins due to birth asphyxia and trauma has improved over the past few decades, it is impossible to say whether this is due to an increased rate of cesareans.

Because a multiple pregnancy is a high-risk condition, the chances of things going wrong are also higher. Twins and triplets are at risk of sustaining a birth injury if the OB/GYN does not appropriately handle a complication that arises during the birthing process.

Image via flickr.

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