Fans collectively freaked out Wednesday afternoon after Beyoncé Knowles announced on social media that she’s pregnant with twins. Knowles made the announcement in an artsy Instagram post that showed her posing in lingerie while cradling her belly. “We would like to share our love and happiness,” she captioned the photo, which has become the most-liked Instagram post ever. “We have been blessed two times over. We are incredibly grateful that our family will be growing by two, and we thank you for your well wishes. – The Carters.” There’s no official word on when the twins are due, but once they arrive, they’ll join big sister Blue Ivy.
Fans and some news outlets are already speculating that Knowles, 35, underwent in-vitro fertilization for her latest pregnancy. More than 40 percent of all IVF births are of multiples (meaning twins, triplets, or more babies), a recent study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility found. Not only that, an estimated 36 percent of recent twin births and 77 percent of births of triplets or more in the U.S. were from women who underwent medically-assisted pregnancies, the New York Times reports.
While Knowles and her husband Jay Z have not commented on whether they used IVF (and really, it’s nobody’s business but their own), there’s one major point that fans are overlooking: Your chance of having twins or multiples goes up as you get older–even if you conceive without reproductive assistance.
Experts say it has something to do with “advanced maternal age,” a term ob/gyns and fertility specialists use to mean that a mother is 35 years old or older at the time of her child’s birth. “With advanced maternal age, there is an increased number of twin pregnancies, both of naturally conceived twins and those that are from fertility treatments,” Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and director of minimally invasive gynecology at The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, tells SELF.
Jason James, M.D., medical director at Miami’s FemCare Ob-Gyn, tells SELF that from age 15 to 35, a woman’s chance of having naturally occurring twins increases fourfold. “This is likely due to a higher concentration of a hormone called follicle stimulation hormone (FSH), which stimulates development of [ovarian] follicles,” he says. “More stimulation equals more chances of multiple gestation.”
Basically, you release more FSH as you age, which increases the odds your follicles will release more than one egg in a cycle, Christine Greves, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, tells SELF. (If you get pregnant and this happens, you could end up with fraternal twins.) That doesn’t mean you’ll definitely have twins if you get pregnant at 35 or a later age, she says–it’s just more likely to happen than if you conceived when you were younger.
Women in general are waiting longer to have children and relying more on assisted reproductive technology, James says, which also increases their odds of having twins. That technology ranges from follicle-stimulating drugs like Clomid, which increases a woman’s risk of having multiples, to IVF, Greves says.
Sometimes women who undergo IVF treatments request that two embryos are transferred in hopes that they’ll have twins, but it’s usually not encouraged by doctors. “As physicians, our goal is to educate women that there are risks associated with twin pregnancies and to encourage the transfer of a single embryo to minimize any potential harm to mother and/or the fetus,” Lina Akopians, M.D., Ph.D., a fertility specialist from the Southern California Reproductive Center, tells SELF.
For one, women who are expecting twins do have a higher chance of experiencing nausea and more severe morning sickness than those who are carrying a single baby, James says. Women who carry multiples are also at an increased risk of having preterm deliveries, hypertension in pregnancy, gestational diabetes, placental issues, and C-sections, Shepherd says. The risk that their babies will have low birth weights also rises, which can lead to intensive care nursery stays.
Other than age, there’s no sign of whether you’re more likely to conceive twins without reproductive assistance, Greves says–with one exception. “If your family has twins, especially with a first-degree relative, like your mother and father, that will increase your [chances],” Shepherd says. Like being 35 or older, it’s not a guarantee–but something that could certainly help explain getting pregnant with twins if it happens to you.