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Fraternal Triplets: What are They and How Common Is it?

Feb 22, 2022 | 2 Minutes Read

There has always been a fascination with multiple births, and triplets are just a magnet for those individuals with enquiring minds who might ask questions like:

  • “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 wearing 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 only increase.

What are fraternal triplets?

Trizygotic or fraternal triplets are formed when 3 separate eggs are fertilized by 3 separate sperm. The babies can be the same or opposite genders. This means that it’s possible to have anyone of the following combinations of babies: 3 girls, 3 boys, 1 girl and 2 boys, or 2 girls and 1 boy.

In terms of similarity, fraternal triplets are no more alike than siblings who 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 which influence other multiple births such as twins still play a part in conceiving non- identical triplets. There is less likelihood of monozygotic or identical triplets occurring, as these are dependent on the splitting of one embryo into 3 exact zygotes. This understandably is a very rare biological event.

Do fraternal triplets share a placenta?

Fraternal triplets do not share an amniotic sac or 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 pregnancy advances, it is possible for the 3 placentas to fuse together and appear as if it is 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 will these fraternal triplet babies be?

Fraternal triplets can look just like any other siblings. If a boy and girl combination is born then they will be less alike than 3 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 baby may be more active in the uterus and when born. He or she 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 3. 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 this can be very challenging, but with scans and your growing tummy, you will find ways to differentiate each of your babies. The fact that they are fraternal and started out from conception as 3 completely separate zygotes may help you to view them from the start as siblings who just happen to be sharing your uterus at the same time.

The fact that your fraternal triplets have experienced the same intrauterine conditions cannot be overlooked. Your diet, environment, prenatal healthcare, and activity level will all influence how your babies grow and develop, both in utero and throughout their lives. The concept of epigenetics is fascinating and looks at how factors such as prenatal nutrition, diet and stress can all influence the genes which are passed on through generations of the same family.

How to increase the chances of having fraternal triplets?

Here’s how to increase the chances of having fraternal triplets:
  • Have fertility assistance. The more eggs supported to maturity and released through ovulation each month, the greater the chances of conception. Bear in mind though standards exist regarding the number of embryos which can be transplanted back into a woman’s uterus.
  • Pick your own parents carefully. Taller women are more likely to have multiples.
  • Women who have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) have a greater likelihood of multiple births.
  • Have a history of undergoing fertility assistance in the past.
  • Eat a diet which is high in dairy foods, milk, and or sweet potatoes.
  • Be within an older age group. Women who are over 30-years-old have a higher-than-average chance of having multiples.
  • Be of African-American descent.
  • Having a multiple pregnancy previously increases the chances.
  • Come from a family where multiple births are more common.
  • Have lots of sex when you are most fertile.

Average pregnancy weight gain with triplets

The average weight gain in pregnancy with triplets is as follows:
  • First trimester: 4 to 5 pounds.
  • Second trimester: 28-plus pounds.
  • Third trimester: 11 to 15-plus pounds.
Any rapid gain or loss of weight is concerning, especially in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Monitoring weight is just one way of assessing maternal and fetal wellbeing and should not be considered in isolation of other observations.

Things to remember

Being told you are expecting triplets can be very shocking. Sometimes a period of professional emotional support can be very helpful. Some pregnant women and their partners need ante natal counseling from a healthcare professional. If you are genuinely concerned about how you are going to cope, ask for help from family and friends. Be specific about what you need them to do and build networks of practical support. Being organized 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 3 babies who are all born at the same time. Imagining that you can build 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 beings fighting for space in your uterus, then all will be clear. Give yourself time and practice 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 prenatal care is vital. If you are pregnant with fraternal triplets, you will be in what is considered a high-risk pregnancy. Monitoring, check-ups and ultrasounds will become a regular part of your life for the next 7 to 8 months.

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 which crosses your mind, so you can clear your thoughts for the next inevitable query.

Don’t forget that in order for your body to grow and support 3 little babies at the same 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.

The information of this article has been reviewed by nursing experts of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment. For more advice from AWHONN nurses, visit Healthy Mom&Baby at health4mom.org.