Multiple births are more common but face disadvantages

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Families that have multiple births can face serious disadvantages compared to singletons and their parents, report researchers.

The new report identifies common challenges facing these families, including greater risk of pregnancy complications and premature birth, infant development delays and special needs, as well as financial, psychological, and social support obstacles.

The researchers call for urgent action in the areas of research, education, policy, and practice to ensure health services and professionals can better meet the needs of multiple-birth families. Coauthors of the report explain the findings here.

Over the last 40 years, multiple births in Australia have almost doubled with 9,056 multiple-births in 2017, compared to 4,740 in 1975—a 91 percent increase.

The report shows that health knowledge, services, and practices have not kept pace with this rise, according to Christie Bolch, an honorary fellow of Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

“Twins—plus triplets and above—bring many special experiences. But at every point of contact in our health system these families experience disadvantage, and this is not well recognized,” says Bolch. “There is a pressing unmet need for adequately funded resources for parents of young multiples to address their unique challenges such as increased social isolation, anxiety and depression, inadequate bereavement support when one or more babies do not survive, and caring for infants with special needs.”

Adequate support must be provided to ensure all children receive the best start in life, adds John Hopper, director of Twins Research Australia at the University of Melbourne, which led the work.

“Our findings demonstrate where our knowledge is lacking—such as the challenges of staggered discharge for the families of multiple-birth babies, the long-term costs to a family when multiples are born prematurely, and the factors that contribute to developmental delays.

“We also show how to close these gaps through better research to understand the physical and mental health concerns of these families, improved education for health professionals and parents, and robust polices to address the financial disadvantage experienced.”

The report identifies strategies, which include extended recovery services, special care, and postnatal ward policies, as well as better training about the heightened support needs of families with multiples, and structured, multiple-specific early parenting education programs.

The work is a collaboration of Twins Research Australia, the Twins and Multiple Births Association-UK, the Australian Multiple Birth Association, and the International Council of Multiple Birth Organisations.

Source: University of Melbourne