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Good Question: What Are The Odds Of A Multiple Birth?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Four identical twins from Buffalo, Minnesota are now starring in a documentary-style reality show about their life.  “Four of a Kind” is now airing on Lifetime Television, following Callie, Kendra, Megan and Sarah Durst through their senior year in high school.

They are one of 63 sets of identical quadruplets in the world. Clearly rare. But what are the odds of having a multiple birth?

“Naturally quadruplet births occur only in 1 per 500,000 births, only a few a year in the country,” said Dr. Bill Block, a perinatal specialist at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.  “Not very high. They’re about Powerball odds.”

At Abbott in 2010, they delivered one set of quadruplets.  The odds of having triplets or more in the United States are just barely one tenth of one percent, 0.0015 percent according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Still, the odds are about 400 percent higher than in 1980, according to Block, that’s almost entirely because of the explosion of fertility drugs and in-vitro fertilization.

And that’s something that the reproductive experts are working to reduce.

“A lot of the reproductive endocrinologists in town and around the country will only put back one egg or, at times, two eggs now. It’s not a matter of putting back four, five, six eggs hoping one would take,” said Block.

So let’s talk twins. In 2008, 3.3 percent of all births were twins. That’s the highest rate ever, perhaps because doctors are cutting down on the rate of triplets or higher.

African-Americans are more likely to have multiple births.  And if it runs in your family, that also elevates the chances.

“There is a genetic component to it. We don’t have it worked out as to what it is exactly, but if you come from a family with many multiple births, you’re more likely to have a multiple birth too,” said Block.

So let’s put this in perspective.  According to the Minnesota Department of Health, in 2009, there were 70,611 babies born.  Of that group, 68,012 were single babies and 2,599 were multiples.

If you removed the influence of fertility drugs and treatments, Block said that the birth rate of multiples are “very steady over time.”

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