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Getting pregnant: Fertility treatments increase the rate of multiple births

Many people who have had trouble becoming pregnant are willing, even eager, to enhances their ability to conceive a child through infertility drugs like clomid or procedures like in vitro fertilization or insemination. While these treatments can bring the happy news of pregnancy, they also increase the risk of becoming pregnant with twins, triplets, quadruplets or even more embryos.

For example, twins occur naturally once in about every 41 births. But when conception occurs as a result of in vitro fertilization, the chance of having twins increases to 20 to 30 percent. Additionally, the younger a woman is when she undergoes in vitro fertilization, the greater are her chances of having a multiple pregnancy.

Multiple births extra risky

The idea of giving birth to more than one child may be thrilling to parents who wondered whether they could ever have a child at all. But before agreeing to any infertility treatment, parents need to know that such treatments can cause multiple births. That means your twins, triplets or more could experience these risks:

  • prematurity
  • low birth weight
  • higher mortality (death) rate
  • life-long disability, such as cerebral palsy

Special medical care required

A multiple pregnancy is generally more uncomfortable than a single pregnancy. Bedrest may become necessary, which can be difficult, especially if there are other children at home or if there are work issues involved.

Birth of twins can also be more complicated. Twins and other multiples are typically smaller than single babies, which makes a vaginal birth easier. But women pregnant with multiples undergo cesarean births more frequently.

Frequent communication essential

The key to getting through a multiple pregnancy is to be in frequent communication with your doctor or other health care provider. While many women experience few, if any, complications during this type of pregnancy, it can be tricky for some women. Talking with your health care provider about what to eat, how to exercise, what activities to avoid and what symptoms may warrant a call to the doctor will help to put your mind at ease.

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Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 17, 1999; United States Centers for Disease Control, National Vital Statistics Report

First published: 07/04/2000
Last updated: 10/14/2007

Reviewed by: Michael Slama, MD, Allina Health Mercy Women's Health Clinic