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

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.”

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Maynard

    Here’s a good question: why do reporters keep trying to use numbers in their reports when they obviously can’t do simple math?

    This report is totally about numbers, yet at roughly 54 seconds into it, you say: here they are as 5 year-olds in their home town of Buffalo in 1993. Today they’re 18 …

    But, 1993 was 18 years ago (hint: you subtract 1993 from 2011); so how could they be 18 now if they were 5, 18 years ago?

    Why should I believe any other numbers in the answer?

    • Jordan

      A great question. Math fail.

    • Maynard

      Or maybe someone else wrote it for you and the script really had 1998 instead of 1993 and you need your eyes checked (in certain fonts the 3 is almost closed, and can be hard to distinguish from an 8).

      But you’re off camera while reading it — I really don’t understand why it wasn’t corrected before airing.

      • Maynard

        Retired. B. Math., U of M IT (now CSE), 1968

        Willing to prescreen to-be-aired reports for obvious math errors, during normal daytime business hours, from my home, for $100/correction. :)

  • Mel

    Identical quads? Does that mean the fertilized egg split 4 times, or are there 2 sets of identical twins born at the same time? I’m confused

    • Kristen

      They’re only identical if the egg splits, so identical quads means the one egg split once and then each of those two also split. Otherwise, two sets of identical twins would mean they are fraternal to one another and all four would not be identical.

    • Helen

      The way they word the first line about it being two sets of identical twins leads me to believe they think it was two sets of twins born at the same time…

      For my identical triplets one egg split and then one of those split, giving me three.

  • David J. Conklin

    > “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.”
    Powerball odds are almost one in two million.

  • Thomas gets it

    I’m for the power ball lmao

  • Courteney

    Get rid of fertility drugs!!!!!!!!!!! There is so much over population already I really don’t see why we need to help people have MORE kids.

    • Kristen

      She stated that she did not use fertility drugs but the fact that they’re identical absolutely does mean it was not from drugs – the drugs do not cause eggs to split, they cause mutliple eggs to release simultaneously and when more than one is fertilized, you get fraternal twins, triplets, quads, etc.

      Courteney, consider that some people need help to have a child of their own and it’s totally unfair for you to say “get rid of fertility drugs” — if it was you wanting to have a baby and you could not, you would feel differently. The overpopulation is not because of fertility drugs – it’s people having too many that are not having problems having them (for the most part). Trust me, if you were in this position, you’d have a different viewpoint. It’s the hardest thing in the world to have to learn that you cannot have a baby when everyone else is doing it without problems. Have some sensitivity.

    • Mel

      She didn’t use fertility drugs, which is backed up by fact that the quads are identical.

      • Shannon Johnson Jordan

        Mel, Just the fact her babies are identical does not back up if fertility drugs were used or not. I have triplets, 2 are identical and 1 is fraternal and I did use fertility drugs.

  • Bill

    “Four identical twins from Buffalo…”
    The term “twins” refers to two being born in the same gestation.
    If four are born in the same gestation, and their identical, then they’re identical quadruplets.

    But then again, that’s to be expected in an article whose related story indicates that they were 5 in 1993, and are 18 now…

  • K.

    They really mixed apples and oranges with this report. Identical quads and fraternal quads are two entirely separate entities. Usually, fertility drugs cause multple fraternal twins………not identical. Identical is a phenomenon where the fertilized egg splits. And to have identical quads means that after the one fertized egg split, each of those then split giving you four……….quite rare…..especially when compared to fraternal quads which happens from several ovulations thus making each baby different. This report wasn’t very clear in giving us the numbers distinguishing these differences.

    • K.

      As I said above, fertility drugs would be more likely to cause multple fraternals because they act on the ovaries to release more eggs. I am not sure that fertility drugs could affect the fertilized egg before it implants itself…… could it do that? I mean, it’s not connected to the mother’s blood supply as it is just floating around in the fallopian tubes before it implants. This report was missing a lot of details.

      • Kristen

        Fertility drugs absolutely do not affect the egg itself or even implantation. The drugs act to cause your body to release hormones that cause your ovaries to develop eggs. Then you get another drug that causes your ovary to release the egg (ovulate) and that’s ALL they do. You still have to wait for fertilization to happen (in IVF, they ensure that part outside your body and then reinsert the fertilized egg in the uterus) and so you could still end up with only one that works (or none most of the time). The multiples thing is pretty rare, even in IUI and IVF.

  • Sandy

    What are the chances of 1 set of grandparents having 3 sets of twin grandchildren? We are the grandparents of a 4 year old boy and girl set of twins from one son. Their cousins are, fraternal boys who are 23 months and their identical twin sisters who are 9 months old. Do the math. Their family had 4 children in 14 months. We also have a brand new singleton just 3 weeks old. None of the twins were conceived with fertility drugs. There are no twins in anyof the families.

    • Maynard

      Third attempt. Not sure why my prior replies were blocked. Maybe because they had URLs.

      I’m not an expert in this, so hopefully the rates that google internet searches found are reliable.

      Tummy Wear (googled “How to Increase Chances of Having Twins”; include the quote marks on all) lists several ways other than fertility drugs to improve the chances of having twins.

      Excluding fertility drugs, Keep Kids Healthy (googled “What is your chance of having twins”) says, in the US, the likelihood of a pregnancy producing fraternal twins is 1 in 60. It also says it is more common in African Americans and least common in Asians and Hispanics. Baby Center (googled “Your likelihood of having twins or more”) says the likelihood is 1 in 89. Since the world-wide Asian plus Hispanic populations dwarf the US population and those are the least likely, it makes sense that it is rarer world-wide than in the US.

      iVillage (googled “What are your chances of having a second set”) says giving birth to fraternal twins is about 5 times more likely for a mother who has already given birth to fraternal twins. But it also says the likelihood of giving birth to identical twins for that same mother is the same 1 in 250 as the general population. The 1 in 250 likelihood is what the other websites also list for identical twins.

      Twins List (googled “Causes of Identical Twinning”) reports an increased likelihood for some fathers to produce identical twins. For example, it mentions a father of identical twins, later divorcing, and producing identical twins with his next wife as well. But it doesn’t say identical twins are more likely after fraternal twins.

      So assuming none of the 4 parents are in any population that change the chances of having twins, the general population chances of the 3 sets of twins you describe are, depending on which fraternal twin rate you choose, 1 in 900,000 (60x60x250) or 1 in 1,980,250 (89x89x250). The chances of identical twins in one family and 2 sets of fraternal twins in the other are 5 times higher than those.

      But I can’t calculate the “1 set of grandparents” part of your question. As far as I know, no state has a place to list the grandparents on a birth certificate, so grandparent statistics aren’t kept, and even if they were, I have no idea what number of grandparents (2, 4, 6, ?) comprise the “set” you mention. Perhaps I’m taking things too literally. :)

  • kathy

    what are the chances of 3 siblings each having a set of grandchildren that are twins my brother has a set of identical boys my sister has a set of identical girls and I have a set of a girl and a boy we have them all covered also there was no fertility drugs these are all natural I sure am glad it missed my generation

    • Maynard

      Again depending on the fraternal twin birth rate (1 in 89 or 1 in 60), the chances are 1 in 5,562,500 (250x250x89) or 1 in 3,750,000 (250x250x60).

      • Maynard

        Forgot to mention the chances of having identical twins is 1 in 250. What I calculated is the likelihood that any 3 pregnancies result in exactly 2 sets of identical twins and 1 set of fraternal twins. To be what you ask, they would have to be multiplied by the likelihood that 3 siblings all have grandchildren (which would have to include the likelihood that your family had 3 siblings). I don’t believe statistics at the grandchildren level are kept. You or your siblings could have adopted, not saying that happened, but it’s possible, and that would throw a wrench in the statistics gathering.

  • Kevin

    DIP ME IN CHOCOLATE!!!!! And throw me in the middle of them……

  • Kim

    Here is another rare event. I am a mother of quadruplets where there are one set of identical girl twins and one set of fraternal girl twins. And no I did not use in-vitro.

    I can not image have four who are all identical!. I have enough challenges with telling my two apart.

  • Maria

    They also got their percentages wrong. 0.0015% is not “barely one tenth of one percent.” 0.0015% would be 15-ten-thousandths of 1%. If it was just supposed to be 0.0015, it’s also wrong – that would be 15-hundredths of one percent, which is one and a half times one-tenth of one percent. Shoddy math all around.

  • Ann

    My grandmother had three sets of twins, all boy/girl. It is said that it skips a genearation then the next generation will have twins again, not one of us cousins had twins. I prayed for twins, then I would only have to go through the pregancy thing once.LOL

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