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Double-Trouble: Multiple births are on the rise

Women who have children later in life have an increased chance of conceiving multiples. (Credit:Thinkstock)

Feel like twins are everywhere these days? You're right. The latest numbers from Statistics Canada confirm that the rate of multiple births in Canada is on the rise.

More than 3 percent of live births in Canada yielded twins, triplets or more, according to the January 31 report, which reports 2009 data.

The rate of multiple births is about 50 percent higher than it was in 1991, reports the Globe and Mail. In 2009, Canada saw 12,707 births that yielded more than one baby, accounting for about 1 in 30 births.

Similarly, in the United States, the number of twins born has doubled in the last 30 years, according to a study by the country's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The reason for the upswing in double-trouble?  An increase in the use of in vitro fertilization, is partly responsible, says Megan Gottfried, a former labour and delivery nurse who is also the president of the nonprofit Toronto Parents of Multiple Births Association.

"Fertility treatments are a big part of this," she says. "A lot of women are postponing having families until later, and require some help."

The growing tendency of Canadian women to begin having families later in life also affects the multiple birth rate because the chance of naturally conceiving twins increases with age.

Reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization can raise the likelihood of having multiple pregnancies because doctors can decide how many embryos are implanted in the mother's uterus. The Globe and Mail reports that 45 percent of children conceived through fertility treatments shared the womb with one or more siblings.

However, multiple births are riskier than single births, with a greater likelihood of premature births and babies with low birth weight.

"Most twins are fine," Dr. Keith Barrington, chief of the neonatal unit at Sainte Justine University Health Center in Montreal, told CBC. "But the risks for something going wrong are definitely higher."

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In both Canada and the U.S., there is a growing move to control the number of embryos implanted during IVF, and reduce the number of multiple births. Joyce Martin, the author of a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, believes that medical advances could also slow the increase in multiple births.

"We seem to be making improvements, refinements to fertility-enhancing therapies, so that could then result in a lowering of the increase of the pace in twin and other multiple births," she told Reuters.

But Gottfried, who is the mother of two-year-old twin boys, says she feels like having twins is a stroke of luck.

"They have each other all the time, they're never alone," she says. "They have a friend built in."