Children's Health and Wellness

Complications of Multiple Pregnancy

Why is multiple pregnancy a concern?

Being pregnant with more than one baby is exciting and is often a happy event for many couples. However, multiple pregnancy has increased risks for complications. The most common complications include the following:

  • Preterm labor and birthOver 60 percent of twins and nearly all higher-order multiples are premature (born before 37 weeks). The higher the number of fetuses in the pregnancy, the greater the risk for early birth. Premature babies are born before their bodies and organ systems have completely matured. These babies are often small, with low birthweights (less than 2,500 grams or 5.5 pounds), and they may need help breathing, eating, fighting infection, and staying warm. Very premature babies, those born before 28 weeks, are especially vulnerable. Many of their organs may not be ready for life outside the mother's uterus and may be too immature to function well. Many multiple birth babies will need care in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

  • Gestational hypertensionWomen with multiple fetuses are more than twice as likely to develop high blood pressure of pregnancy. This condition often develops earlier and is more severe than pregnancy with one baby. It can also increase the chance of placental abruption (early detachment of the placenta).

  • AnemiaAnemia is more than twice as common in multiple pregnancies as in a single birth.

  • Birth defectsMultiple birth babies have about twice the risk of congenital (present at birth) abnormalities including neural tube defects (such as spina bifida), gastrointestinal, and heart abnormalities.

  • MiscarriageA phenomenon called the vanishing twin syndrome in which more than one fetus is diagnosed, but vanishes (or is miscarried), usually in the first trimester, is more likely in multiple pregnancies. This may or may not be accompanied by bleeding. The risk of pregnancy loss is increased in later trimesters as well.

  • Twin-to-twin transfusion syndromeTwin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) is a condition of the placenta that develops only with identical twins that share a placenta. Blood vessels connect within the placenta and divert blood from one fetus to the other. It occurs in about 15 percent of twins with a shared placenta.In TTTS, blood is shunted from one fetus to the other through blood vessel connections in a shared placenta. Over time, the recipient fetus receives too much blood, which can overload the cardiovascular system and cause too much amniotic fluid to develop. The smaller donor fetus does not get enough blood and has low amounts of amniotic fluid.

Illustration of a twin birth, twin to twin transfusion
Click Image to Enlarge

  • Abnormal amounts of amniotic fluidAmniotic fluid abnormalities are more common in multiple pregnancies, especially for twins that share a placenta.

  • Cesarean deliveryAbnormal fetal positions increase the chances of cesarean birth.

  • Postpartum hemorrhageThe large placental area and over-distended uterus place a mother at risk for bleeding after delivery in many multiple pregnancies.

Online Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Multifetal Pregnancy Reductionhttp://www.acog.org/Resources_And_Publications/Committee_Opinions/Committee_on_Ethics/Multifetal_Pregnancy_Reduction
Online Source: American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Multiple Pregnancy and Birth: Twins, Triplets, and High-order Multipleshttp://www.asrm.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM_Content/Resources/Patient_Resources/Fact_Sheets_and_Info_Booklets/multiples.pdf
Online Source: American Academy of Pediatrics. Having Twins? How to Stay Healthyhttp://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/prenatal/Pages/Having-Twins-How-to-Stay-Healthy.aspx
Online Source: March of Dimes Foundation. Multiples, twins, triplets and byeondhttp://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/multiples-twins-triplets-and-beyond.aspx
Online Source: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Having Twinshttps://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq092.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20130501T1600112480
Online Editor: Metzger, Geri
Online Medical Reviewer: Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 5/29/2013
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