What Do You Call Four, Five, Six or More Babies?

Multiple pregnancy ultrasound photo
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There seems to be a fascination with multiples in our culture and many others. With the rise in the numbers of multiples, particularly twins, questions about them are more common than ever.

A Simple Chart of Multiple Birth Terms

It can be hard to keep track of all of the terms used to describe multiple births, but this quick-reference can help:

Number of BabiesTerm Used
1Singleton
2Twins
3Triplets
4Quadruplets (quads)
5Quintuplets (quints)
6Sextuplets
7Septuplets
8Octuplets

Twins Are More Common Than Triplets or More

According to the United States National Vital Statistics Report, there are approximately 33.9 sets of twins born for every 1,000 live births and 113.5 sets of triplets or more per 100,000 births.

In other words, twins are a lot more common (about 3 percent of all live births) versus a pregnancy with three or more babies (about 0.1 percent of all live births). This may surprise some people, considering the number of multiple births seen in the media or on reality television shows.

How Multiple Births Occur

You may wonder exactly how a woman conceives multiple babies. Well, the biology behind it is quite intriguing.

Identical 

Every month, a woman releases an egg from her ovary (this process is called ovulation), which can then be fertilized by a sperm to form an embryo and eventually, a developing fetus or baby.

If an embryo happens to split into two or more embryos (this is rare and believed to be a fluke of nature) identical twins (or more) may result.

Due to the splitting of the embryo, identical twins share the exact same DNA. This is why they are always of the same gender.

Fraternal 

On the other hand, some women release more than one egg during ovulation; they "hyperovulate," so to speak. Experts are not quite sure why some women hyperovulate and others do not, but there is believed to be a genetic component to it—a hyperovulation gene.

In addition, age plays a role, as women older than age 35 are more likely to release more than one egg during each menstrual cycle. 

If a woman releases two (or more) eggs during ovulation, then two (or more) different sperm can fertilize each egg to form two (or more) unique embryos. In this case, twins would be fraternal (not identical), and they can be of different genders or the same gender.

Interestingly, sometimes both of the above processes occur. This can be difficult to wrap your head around so here is an example scenario.

Let's say a woman hyperovulates releasing multiple eggs during the middle of her menstrual cycle. These eggs are each fertilized by a sperm, and then one or more of those embryo splits. In this instance, a woman could have multiple births (let's say quadruplets) with two of the babies being fraternal twins and two being identical.

Quick Facts on Multiple Pregnancies

There is a lot to know about multiple pregnancies, but here are a few facts and words of wisdom that may surprise you.

  • Early clues that you may have a multiple pregnancy are more severe morning sickness, extra tender breasts, and quicker weight gain.
  • The most common complication of a multiple pregnancy is preterm birth.
  • Preeclampsia is more common in a multiple pregnancy than in a woman pregnant with one.
  • A multiple pregnancy puts a woman at high risk for developing gestational diabetes.
  • Postpartum depression and early parenthood mental health problems may be more likely to occur in women who have a multiple pregnancy.
  • You can still breastfeed if you have more than one baby.
  • Multiples may also arise with fertility treatment, like if more than one embryo is implanted in a woman's uterus (fraternal) or if an embryo splits (identical).

A Word From Verywell

If you, your partner or a loved one is expecting multiple babies, it's good to gain knowledge.

Be sure to talk with your doctor about some of the more difficult topics like the maternal and fetal risks of a multiple pregnancy versus a singleton pregnancy. 

Sources:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (July 2015). Multiple Pregnancy.

Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Osterman MJK, Curtin SC, Mathews TJ: National Center for Health Statistic Births: Final Data for 2014. National Vital Statistics Reports; vol 64 no 12. Hyattsville, MD.

Wenze SJ, Battle CL, Tezanos KM. Raising multiples: mental health of mothers and fathers in early parenthood. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2015 Apr; 18(2):163-76.

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