BARCELONA, Spain — Parents of twins are more likely to have mental health problems than those of single-born babies, researchers said Monday, but some questioned how important the difference really was.
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In a small study that tracked the parents of about 100 twins and more than 700 single-born babies, Finnish experts found that the parents of twins had more depression, anxiety and other problems than parents of single-born babies.
The results were announced Monday at a meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Spain.
"It's stressful to have a baby, and even more stressful to have more babies," said Dr. Laurence Shaw, deputy medical director of the London Bridge Fertility, Gynaecology and Genetics Centre.
Shaw, who is unconnected to the Finnish research, said the study's findings were interesting but might be misinterpreted.
"The message is not that parents of twins are nutters," he said.
True cost of multiples
But he added, with the rise in twin births due to artificial reproduction techniques, doctors and parents needed to be more conscious of the true costs of having twins.
Because many in-vitro fertilization procedures implant more than one embryo in a woman, there is a one-in-four chance of having twins when using artificial reproduction techniques. That compares to a one-in-80 chance of having twins naturally.
"You are not necessarily getting two babies for the price of one," Shaw said. "The price may be slightly higher."
Women pregnant with twins are susceptible to numerous medical complications — including premature birth, diabetes and high blood pressure — but few studies have examined the mental health of parents once the twins are born.
"It's a worrying finding," said Dr. Leila Unkila Kallio, a senior consultant in gynecology and obstetrics at Helsinki University Central Hospital, the study's lead researcher.
Kallio and colleagues gave the parents of twins and single-born babies a questionnaire to fill out when the mothers were pregnant, when the babies were two months old, and when they were one year old. The study was funded mostly by Finnish psychiatric agencies and foundations.
Parents of twins were more likely than parents of single babies to report problems including anxiety, sleeping difficulties, and social dysfunction.
Doctors need to 'keep eyes open'
Kallio said the data was insufficient to tell if parents reporting symptoms might be clinically depressed, have other mental disorders, or be in need of psychiatric treatment.
"Doctors are very busy, but they need to keep their eyes open," Kallio said. "Parents of twins are at greater risk of developing mental health symptoms, which may lead to a more serious mental disorder."
Other experts doubted whether the parents of twins were actually mentally unhealthy or just overrun by the demands of new parenthood.
"They may have slightly raised anxiety levels, but that doesn't mean it's a big problem," said Susan Golombok, a professor at the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge.
"Most parents are quite pleased to have twins," Golombok said. "Just because they score a few points higher on the mental health questionnaire doesn't mean they will need to see a psychiatrist."
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