Fraternal triplets

There has always been a fascination with multiple births, and triplets are just a magnet for those individuals with enquiring minds. “Were they conceived naturally”? “Are they identical”? “How will you cope”? And the most popular exclamation of all “I’m glad it’s you, and not me”. 

You’re likely to hear all of these comments and more when you are pregnant with triplets. Mothers of multiples say these little conversations help though, to build some emotional immunity to the public’s responses. But this doesn’t make it less tiring, of course. One good tip is to use these remarks to build some skills for the inevitable reactions you’ll get when you are caring for three small babies. 

Putting a positive slant on the fact that you are pregnant with triplets may be a challenge, but it is your reality and you will find it easier if you view your pregnancy in an optimistic way. You are in a very small minority group of mothers, who generally find the advantages and benefits of having triplets increasing. 

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What are fraternal triplets?

Trizygotic or fraternal triplets are formed when three separate eggs are fertilised by three separate sperm. The babies can be the same or opposite genders. This means that it’s possible to have any one of the following combinations of babies – three girls, three boys, one girl and two boys, or two girls and one boy. 

In terms of similarity, fraternal triplets are no more alike than siblings that have the same biological parents. The only real likenesses they may have are some resemblances of their features and a shared birth date. 

This issue of family similarity has fascinated researchers for a very long time. This is why twins and triplets are so commonly used for studies into the subject of nature versus nurture. Specifically, which is the more powerful determinate when it comes to how children evolve into adults.

How common are fraternal triplets?

Fraternal triplets are more common than identical or monozygotic triplets. Around 80% or more of triplets are the fraternal variety. This is largely because most of the factors influencing other multiple births (such as twins), still play a part in conceiving non-identical triplets. There is a lower likelihood of monozygotic or identical triplets occurring, as these are dependent on the splitting of one embryo into three exact zygotes. And this understandably is a very rare biological event. 

Do fraternal triplets share a placenta?

Fraternal triplets do not share an amniotic sac or a placenta. They are 3 entirely separate and unique little pregnancies. Because of this, they will be enclosed in their own sacs and have their own umbilical cords and placentas. However, as the pregnancy progresses, it is possible for the three placentas to fuse together and appear as if they are one enormous placenta. If it is not clear if your multiples are identical or fraternal, it is common obstetric practice for the placenta to be sent to the laboratory for analysis. 

How similar are they?

Fraternal triplets can look just like any other siblings. If a boy/ girl combination is born then, understandably, they will be less alike than three babies of the same gender. But appearances only account for some of the similarities fraternal triplets may have. 

It can be relatively easy to differentiate each individual baby’s personality and temperament from the start. One of the babies may be more active in the womb and when born, just makes their presence more obvious in their own unique way. 

Parents of fraternal triplets say that it is important to try and see each baby as their own unique little person, rather than one of a cluster of three. Referring to them as “the triplets” instead of by name should be avoided where possible. Calling them by their individual names will help you and your partner build individual, unique relationships with each of them. 

In the early days of pregnancy especially, this can be very challenging, but with scans and your growing tummy, you will find ways to differentiate each of your three little babies. The fact that they are fraternal and started out from conception as three completely separate zygotes may help you to view them from the start as siblings that just happened to be sharing your womb at the same time! 

But the fact that your fraternal triplets have experienced the same conditions in the womb cannot be overlooked. Your diet, environment, ante-natal healthcare and activity all influence how your babies will grow and develop, both in your womb and throughout their lives. The concept of Epigenetics is fascinating and looks at how factors such as antenatal nutrition, diet and stress can all influence the genes that are passed through generations of the same family. 

How to increase the chances of having fraternal triplets

  • Have fertility treatment. The more eggs supported to maturity and released through ovulation each month, the greater the chances of conception. Bear in mind though that legislation is in place governing the number of embryos that can be transplanted back into a woman’s womb.
  • Taller women are more likely to have multiples.
  • Women that have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) have a greater likelihood of multiple births.
  • Have a history of undergoing fertility treatment in the past.
  • Be within an older age group. Women aged over 30 years have a higher than average chance of having multiples.
  • Be of African descent.
  • Having had a multiple pregnancy previously also increases your chances of having one again.
  • Come from a family where multiple births are more common.
  • Have lots of sex when you are most fertile. 

Average pregnancy weight gain with tripletsThe total weight gain ranges from 20.5-23 kg at 32-34 weeks’ gestation. The rate of gain is about 0.48 kg / week before 24 weeks’ gestation and 0.96 kg / week after 24 weeks. 

Note: Any rapid gain or loss of weight, especially in the third trimester of pregnancy,  is worrying. 

Monitoring weight is just one way of assessing maternal/ foetal well-being, and should not be considered in isolation of other observations. 

What’s worth remembering?

Being told you are expecting triplets can be upsetting, and sometimes a period of professional emotional support can be very helpful. Some pregnant women and their partners need antenatal counselling from a healthcare professional. If you are genuinely concerned about how you are going to cope, then ask for help from family and friends. Be specific about what you need them to do and build networks of practical support. Being organised is the first step towards making this an enjoyable time in your life rather than barely tolerating it. 

Many expectant parents worry about how they could possibly love three babies that are all born at the same time. Imagining that you are capable of building a deep emotional connection with more than one baby can seem overwhelming, until they are actually born. 

When you see your babies and they are individuals, rather than images on a screen or fighting for space in your womb, then all will be clear. Give yourself time to get to know your babies. Nature has designed our babies to help us fall in love with them. Be confident, stay calm and believe in your own abilities. 

Good, regular antenatal care is vital. If you are pregnant with fraternal triplets, you will be in what is considered a “high-risk” pregnancy. Monitoring, checking and ultrasounds will become a regular part of your life for the next 7-8 months at least. 

Make a point of getting to know your healthcare provider and building a trusting relationship with them. It is important that you feel comfortable enough to ask any question that crosses your mind, so you can prepare for the next inevitable query. 

Don’t forget that in order for your body to grow and support 3 little babies at the one time, you will need to care well for their mother. Eating well, resting when you can, gentle exercise and having healthy emotional relationships will all play a crucial role in supporting your own good health. 

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