Checking my stats I discovered that ‘Risk factors for a home birth with twins’ was a search someone had started which had caused them to visit my blog. It’s interesting how these things must function as individually ‘risk factors’, ‘home birth’ and ‘twins’ would definitely all feature in my musings but I feel sure that I haven’t ever put them all together, and definitely never in a format suggesting that I would encourage a home birth for twins.
- There are midwives who will disagree with me on this one, they are brave, I am tremulous. I look at the risk factors during and following the labour and plump firmly for the ‘birth units attached to an obstetric unit are lovely’ attitude.
- There are midwives who will disagree with me on this one too, they would rather the obstetric unit.
- There are midwives who will disagree with them on that one, they would rather an elective caesarean section.
So, there are 4 viewpoints on how the birth of twins should be managed. How would each group have reached their opinion? Most often the answer is experience, a bad experience of one method and a good outcome with another. To be honest, there are very few, currently practising, NHS midwives who will have experienced a planned homebirth of twins therefore we haven’t got any experience, be it positive or negative, on which to base our judgement. What we have to do is consider the twin births we have witnessed in hospital, read any evidence about outcomes at twin home births and weigh up the risk factors (I’m not even going to include Trust guidelines, policies and protocols here as they would completely bar a homebirth of twins).
Let’s consider the risk factors during labour. Immediately there is a difference between identical, one egg, twins and fraternal, two egg, twins. This arises because the identical twins will share a placenta and sac, whilst the fraternal each have their own home and placenta. I could scribe for ever if I muse about each so I’ll mention it when pertinent. So, Mum has gone into labour, twins will often come early, has the pregnancy reached 37 weeks? Before that there is a risk of one, or both babies, having breathing difficulties. I think that everyone would agree here that the birth should be in an obstetric unit purely for the paediatric support. Then, how are babies lying? Are they behaving themselves? Ideally both babies will be coming head first, if they are then risk regarding the birth immediately decreases, this is when I muse about a birth centre environment, as long as it stands along-side an obstetric unit.
First one, head down (cephalic) with the second breech? Gosh. How big are these babies? Is the first one larger than the second? Even though the research on vaginal breech births being a no no has been rubbished obstetricians, and midwives are still hugely wary, at this juncture many professionals would advise an elective caesarian section. I say many, not all. If one of my women was pushing for a vaginal birth with T1 cephalic and T2 breech I would have a long discussion about the problems which may be encountered due to breech presentations but, if they were fraternal, ultimately I would support her with her desire for a vaginal birth in an obstetric unit. Identical twins, more problematic, it’s that one placenta worrying me, is it going to start separating before the 2nd baby is born? The breech may deliver with no difficulty, so hopefully there are only a few minutes between babies, it may take it’s time though, or decide to stick a leg down and then require more manoeuvres to help it out or the cord may snake down, I’m weighing it up, placenta might separate = lack of oxygen, baby might take longer to be born, certainly there is higher risk for a poor outcome with the second twin, my feeling, obstetric unit and possibly an epidural. Many, many people and some midwives would disagree with me, I’ll put a couple of links here, Emma Barker’s twin birth and Homebirth org which have a more relaxed stance than me. Both babies breech, obstetric unit and, in my world, whether fraternal or identical, elective caesarian section.
Why all this worry? After all it’s just giving birth to two babies rather than one. Unfortunately it really isn’t that simple, and the second baby really does fare less well than the first baby. Several reasons, mainly due to the extra space available once number one has been born. Even if the second baby was coming in a good position, be that cephalic or breech prior to its sibling leaving the womb, that can change as soon as room has been created for it to move around. Routine at twin births is stabilising the second twin as soon as number 1 is born. An assistant will, externally, attempt to ensure that wriggly twin 2 doesn’t perform celebratory gymnastics. There is also the risk that the cord will present before baby, someone will check this and, if it there and baby is in a good position plus already striving to come out s/he will be assisted in their endeavours but, if baby is still high, or the part the examiner is feeling is a leg , shoulder or arm then the safest way forward is a caesarean. If T2 is behaving then generally, after a short rest, contractions will continue. This isn’t always the case though and, due to the uterus contracting down following the 1st baby, there is a risk that the placenta will start to separate, causing number 2 to suffer with a lack of oxygen so some units will routinely put up a syntocinon IV to ensure that contractions can be stimulated if necessary. It’s also handy to have the syntocinon hanging around for the third stage, that time when the placenta, or placentae are coming away. There is much talk in this entry about the uterus, and it’s size and during the third stage is when it can cause the mother more problems. With one baby there is a much smaller area where the placenta was attached, with two it is really quite large, and in essence this is an open wound which can bleed quite impressively if the uterus doesn’t contract down really quickly, and then stay contracted down. Following a twin pregnancy all the associated tissues and muscles have been hugely stretched so the chance of an atonic, non-contracted uterus, is more probable, therefore the strong possibility of a postpartum haemorrhage is something to be kept in mind. This is where the syntocinon IV comes in handy as it may well be required to help a reluctant uterus to contract.
Ultimately the choice of where a woman gives birth to her baby, however many, is her decision. That choice should be informed though. There are risks with a twin birth, and they are higher than for just one baby. The highest risk, prematurity has been passed with a planned home birth but there is still risk at term, particularly for the second baby. Professionals can advise, and on the whole we err on the side of caution so, if you are expecting twins and want to really know your options and the risks, read, read, and then read some more but make sure that what you are reading comes from safe sources.
Great article about twins – e.Notes.com
American discussion about twin births with international references
Postscript – (declaring an event which may make me biased)
My daughter had twins, by an elective caesarean section at 36 weeks. This was her 2nd pregnancy. The first ended with an induction of labour at 41 weeks and 4 days, failure to progress, cervix never more than 4 cms dilated after 15 hours on syntocinon, progressed to caesarean section and the birth of a 9lbs 12ozs baby girl.
The twin pregnancy was identical twins and was uneventful. Daughter was happy with the plan to deliver the babies at 36 weeks, I concurred as T1 was cephalic, T2 was breech, the history of the previous section and a close family history of twin-to-twin transfusion resulting in both babies dying. The babies weighed 6lbs each but T2 suffered breathing problems and spent the first 2 days of his life in NICU, he is fine now. In retrospect I would have encouraged waiting until 37 weeks, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.