Although triplets are usually born early and smaller than other babies, they are generally faring well by the time they are teenagers, a small study suggests.
The study, which followed 19 sets of triplets, found that by about age 14, the teens were in the "normal" range for health-related quality of life and behaviour and were faring no differently than 51 singleton teens who were also born at a low weight.
In fact, parents of triplets reported fewer behavioural issues compared with parents of singletons, according to a report by Dr Giancarlo Natalucci and colleagues at the University Children's Hospital Zurich in the Journal of Pediatrics.
Not much has been known about older triplets, according to Dr Rajan Wadhawan of the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. "There are good studies that look at triplets' outcomes at two years of age, but not beyond," said Dr Wadhawan, who was not involved in the current study but has researched triplets' development early in life.
Dr Wadhawan said these latest findings suggest that, for triplets who do not suffer serious problems after birth, the long-term outlook seems good. In his own recent study, Dr Wadhawan found that triplets born at extremely low weights faced greater risks even compared with singleton infants born similarly small. Those triplets were more likely to die or have neurological impairments before age two.
"The results of (the current) study are quite different from what we showed in our triplet study," Dr Wadhawan said. "However, we studied a very different group of babies."
Birth weight of the newborns
In this study, triplets' average birth weight was about three pounds, eight ounces ;(1.5 kilos) the newborns in Dr Wadhawan's study all weighed less than two pounds, three ounces.
Dr Natalucci’s team followed 19 sets of triplets and 51 singletons, all matched for birth weight, into adolescence. At that point, the kids and their parents completed standard questionnaires on health-related quality of life.
Parents and teachers also rated the teens' behaviour, which included problems with "acting out" and "internalising." Overall, teachers rated the triplets and singletons similarly. But parents of triplets actually reported fewer behavioural issues.
The findings, Dr Natalucci's team writes, suggest that triplets' outlook is good and that in certain ways, they may fare even better than singletons born small.
Dr Wadhawan agreed that there is some good news here for parents. "Although there are risks of prematurity in multiple pregnancies, and the possibility of serious morbidities in those born preterm," he said, "triplets who do not suffer from these issues may enjoy some benefits as compared to singletons at later stages."
In the United States, there were nearly 6 000 triplets born in 2007, compared to about 2 100 high-order multiples born 20 years earlier.
(Reuters Health, Amy Norton, May 2012)
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