When you're pregnant with multiples, it may seem like you have more than just twice the amount of baby supplies to purchase. You also have more factors to take into consideration when preparing for your labor and delivery.

That's because pregnancies with multiples come with a higher risk for certain conditions, including preeclampsia, preterm labor and delivery, delivery via c-section and low birth weight, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Knowing what to expect can help ease your nerves. Here's what you should know about labor and delivery with multiples.

1) How can I reduce the risk of preeclampsia?

Moms of multiples are at a higher risk for developing preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition marked by high blood pressure and protein in your urine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) explains. It's sometimes also called toxemia, says the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART).

According to the SART, mothers of multiples are two to five times more likely to develop preeclampsia and it tends to be more severe.

15 to 20 percent of women women pregnant with twins will develop preeclampsia

The causes of preeclampsia are still unknown, but it can lead to long-term health effects for babies, from learning disorders to blindness, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation.

The American Pregnancy Association (APA) explains that you can reduce your risk of developing preeclampsia by:

  • Cutting back on salt
  • Drinking 8 glasses of water per day
  • Avoiding fried foods
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Exercising regularly
  • Elevating your feet throughout the day
  • Avoiding caffeinated drinks

2) How can I lower the risk of preterm birth?

Multiples are more likely to be delivered before week 37 of pregnancy, the Office on Women's Health explains.

Average length of pregnancy per number of babies

Number of babiesAverage length of pregnancy
1 38.6 weeks
2 35 weeks
3 32 weeks
4 30 weeks

About half of all twin pregnancies are delivered preterm, according to a 2011 article in Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology. In fact, preterm labor and delivery is the most common complication for twin pregnancies, says ACOG.

Babies who are born preterm can have difficulties breathing and eating, and they usually have to stay in the hospital longer than full-term babies. But modern medicine has advanced enough that problems related to preterm pregnancy are usually treatable.

According to ACOG, detecting preterm labor early enough is key.

If your doctor diagnoses you with preterm labor, a corticosteroid may help your babies' lungs mature more quickly. Or you may take a medication to slow or stop your contractions altogether. The main thing is to keep your doctor abreast of how you're feeling, especially if you're feeling contractions.

3) How can I reduce the chance that my babies will have a low birth weight?

More than half of all twins have a low birth weight”less than 5.5 pounds, says SART, which can put your baby at risk for respiratory, heart and other problems.

Average birth weight per number of babies

Number of babiesAverage Birth Weight
1 7.3 lbs
2 5.1 lbs
3 3.7 lbs
4 2.9 lbs

They also have a greater chance of developing medical problems later on in life”like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, says March of Dimes.

If you stay healthy, you'll reduce your babies' chances of having health issues even if they are born preterm.

You can stay healthy by:

  • Taking a daily prenatal vitamin that contains 400 micrograms of folic acid
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding exposure to cigarettes, drugs and alcohol
  • Avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals such as paint thinner, as well as undercooked meat and used cat litter
  • Reducing your stress levels

Source: March of Dimes

While labor and delivery for a multiples pregnancy can be more challenging than a single baby, when all is said and done, you'll have twice (or more) the reward.

If you have any questions about your multiples pregnancy, Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center is here to help.