When a mother gives birth to a large number of babies at one time, the world never ceases to be fascinated. Twins, triplets, quadruplets, quintuplets, sextuplets septuplets, octuplets, etc; the list appears endless.
Nigeria’s first known multiple birth babies were sextuplets (six babies). Historical and medical records show that their birth dates back over 110 years ago to 1907 when an unnamed 19-year-old woman from the South East region was delivered of six babies in a row after a short labour.
Although it is not known what their male/female sex ratio was or how many of the babies eventually survived, the event elicited drama and a graphic insight as to just how demanding all multiple births can be.
For several decades, multiple births have been a regular feature in Nigeria, specifically, since the late 1970s. The incidence of multiple births in Nigeria is about 1 in 17 of all maternities, compared to the national average of 1 in 22, unarguably one of the highest rates in the whole world.
The world record for high-order or multiple births, notably twins, belongs to the Yoruba race. For decades, it has been established that the South Western zone of the country perpetually holds the gold medal for the highest number of twin births worldwide.
Statistically, Igboora in Oyo State has what is arguably the highest incidence of twin births – a fact documented far back as the 1960s. From Igboora, the land of twins, to Ekiti, Ondo and Ebonyi States, the story is the same.
Multiple births can be multiple blessings as well as multiple problems. They could be a bundle of joy one minute, and a bundle of grief the next. The high cost of raising multiples alone, can bring many families to financial ruin. According to medical experts, multi-foetal pregnancies are high-risk pregnancies, and are complicated by a higher incidence of hypertensive diseases such as anaemia, preterm labour, and several delivery complications such as Ceasarean Section, operative delivery, mal-presentation, cord accidents, etc. Multiple births have devastating physical consequences and complications both for mother and babies. Once there are more than triplets, there are problems with both complicated pregnancies for the mother and the babies.
Why many women are having many babies at once
Part of the reason is that treating infertility has improved tremendously but causes of most of the unassisted cases remain unknown. Indeed, the incidence of multiple births in the black race as a whole has constituted a poser to scientists for years. Multiple pregnancies have increased primarily due to the fact that more women who are having babies are over 30, and they are more likely to conceive multiples. Use of ovulation induction agents usually lead to multiple pregnancies. They are drugs used to stimulate ovulation in women who are not naturally ovulating. They help control the menstrual cycle. With increasing medical advances, particularly in the areas of infertility and care of pre-term births, the number of multiple births has increased dramatically. Other reasons range from diet to heredity. A woman with a family history of twinning has a high possibility of giving birth to twins. Same argument goes for the man.
How identical twins/multiples occur
Identical or monozygotic multiples come from a single fertilized egg and are genetically identical. They are usually the same gender and look alike. Their occurrence is considered a random event not influenced by age, race, or heredity. Identical multiples occur in 3 to 4 of every 1,000 live births.
How fraternal/non-identical twins/multiples occur
Dizygotic twins/multiples or fraternal multiples, result from multiple eggs that are fertilized by different sperm. These multiples may be different genders and are no more genetically identical than normal siblings. They are more common and tend to occur with infertility treatments. The increase of fraternal multiples is also due to the fact that older women are more likely to have multiples, and many women today are conceiving at a later age. Other women who have an increased chance of fraternal multiples include those with higher body mass index (BMI), and those who have had more babies.
How triplets, quadruplets, sextuplets occur
Higher order multiples (triplets, quadruplets, etc.) are all a variation of identical or fraternal multiples. For example, triplets can result from one egg fertilized by one sperm (zygote) and dividing into three. This means that the triplets would be genetically identical.
Triplets could also occur if one of two zygotes divide in half. This would mean that two of the triplets would be genetically identical while the third child is considered a fraternal multiple. Similar scenarios occur in quadruplets and other forms of multiples.