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Science | PSHE

World has reached ‘peak twins’ say doctors

Should we welcome the rise in multiple births? Today, Malians are celebrating as the world’s first surviving nonuplets turn ten days old. But all nine babies still face huge challenges. The mood in the delivery room was tense. None of the doctors at the hospital in Morocco had ever seen a set of septuplets before. They knew the babies’ chances of survival were slim. But then, something extraordinary happened. Halima Cissé, a 25-year-old from Mali, gave birth to nine children – two more than the doctors were expecting. And incredibly, all nine babies survived the delivery. For new mother Halima, the birth of girls Hawa, Adama, Fatouma, Oumou and Kadidia and boys Elhadji, Oumar, Mohamed and Bah is nothing short of a miracle. Nonuplets are incredibly rare. Records show only two previous cases – in 1971 and 1999 – but none of the babies survived more than a few days. Doctors in Mali were so worried they flew Halima to Morocco for specialist care. Now, as the babies enter their second week of life, ecstatic relatives in Mali have celebrated by holding a naming ceremony. But the nonuplets face an uncertain future. With space running out in her womb, Halima gave birth at just 30 weeks pregnant. The smallest baby weighed just 1.1lb – only twice the size of a hamster. Two are still on ventilators. And like all premature babies, they could develop cerebral palsy, learning difficulties and hearing loss. “I’m not worried about that,” says their father Adjudant Kader Arby. “God gave us these children. He is the one to decide what will happen to them.” But for doctors around the world, the birth of the Malian nonuplets has highlighted the risk of multiple births. And it is a phenomenon they are seeing more often than ever before. Since the 1980s, the rate of twin births has soared by more than 30%. Each year, 1.6 million twins are born, accounting for one in every 42 babies. Scientists have pinpointed two reasons for the twin boom. First, more babies today are born to older mothers, who have a higher chance of giving birth to twins. Second, more couples are turning to fertility treatments such as IVF. Now, as doctors warn of the dangers of multiple births, some researchers suspect that the world has reached “peak twin”. Indeed, when “Octomum” Nadya Suleman gave birth to eight babies in California in 2009, authorities were so outraged that they revoked the license of the doctor who gave Suleman IVF treatment. But what is it like to be a twin, a triplet – or even a nonuplet? It is not all bad news for the Malian siblings. In 2016, scientists in Denmark found that on average, twins live longer than other people. They called it the “twin protection effect”, theorising that the social bond between twins provides a source of support in life and prevents risky behaviour. And what about the parents? In 1983, Liverpudlians Janet and Graham Walton welcomed sextuplets, and began changing 11,000 nappies per year. “For two years, I only slept for a couple of hours a night,” says Janet. Today, the Waltons have few regrets. “I suppose it’s a bit like having a party the whole time,” says second daughter Luci. Should we welcome the rise in multiple births? Record breakers Yes, say some. Medical advances mean that multiples are now more likely to survive and lead healthy lives than ever before. Each nonuplet will grow up with eight built-in best friends and accomplices in life. And while taking care of nine newborns at the same time may be challenging for their parents, it will be a lot quicker than taking care of one baby each year for nine years. Of course not, say others. Giving birth to more than two or three babies at once remains incredibly dangerous. Halima Cissé lost so much blood during the delivery of the nonuplets that she almost died. And no parent, no matter how dedicated, can pay as much attention to nine babies as they could to one – even the Waltons admit having just six children was “very difficult”. KeywordsPremature - Too soon.

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