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multiple birth

multiple birth, bringing forth of more than one offspring at birth. Although many smaller mammals bear several young at a time, multiple births are relatively uncommon in humans and other primates. Twinning, the process that leads to the production of more than one offspring, results in twins, and with decreasing frequency, triplets, quadruplets, quintuplets, sextuplets, septuplets, and octuplets.

In the one-egg, or identical, type of twinning, a single fertilized ovum divides to form two complete organisms. Such twins are always of the same sex, are usually extraordinarily similar in physical appearance, and have identical blood-group types. Twinning to form one-egg identical twins usually takes place early in pregnancy. If considerable development has taken place before the twinning occurs, there may be an incomplete separation of the two embryos resulting in conjoined twins. Despite their similarities, identical twins have epigenetic differences that influence how their common DNA is used and expressed, and early genetic mutations typically result in some small genetic differences between identical twins.

Fraternal twins, which are more common than identical twins, are those that develop from two separate ova, each fertilized by a sperm. Fraternal twins may or may not be of the same sex and need not resemble each other more than do any other two offspring of the same parents. In the United States twins occur once in approximately 40 births. In rare cases, non-identical embryos can fuse in the womb to produce a condition called chimerism, in which some of the individual's cells come from one of the embryos and the rest of the cells come from the other, genetically distinct embryo.

The incidence of multiple-egg births is in part genetically determined, varying according to race and family tendencies; and it is also influenced by external factors, i.e., the incidence increases with increasing age of the mother and the number of children she has already borne. One-egg, or identical, twinning occurs with the same frequency in all women, regardless of race, age, or other factors. There is evidence from comparative biology that deleterious factors in the environment of the newly fertilized ovum, such as a reduction in oxygen, increase the likelihood of one-egg twinning. Fertility drugs such as clomiphene, which are used when the cause of infertility is lack of released ova, sometimes cause several ova to be released and fertilized simultaneously. The use of these drugs has led to a rise in the incidence of multiple births, including sextuplets, septuplets, and octuplets.

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Twins (human)

Two babies born to a mother at one birth. There are two types of twins, monozygotic and dizygotic. Members of a twin pair are called co-twins.

Controversy surrounding the definition of a twin arose with the advent of reproductive technologies enabling the simultaneous fertilization of eggs, with separate implantation. The unique “twinlike” relationships that would result between parents and cloned children (who would be genetically identical to their parents) also challenge current conceptions of twinship. Monozygotic twins are clones (genetically identical individuals derived from a single fertilized egg), but parents and cloned children would not be twins for several reasons, such as their differing prenatal and postnatal environments.

Monozygotic twins

The division of a single fertilized egg (or zygote) between 1 and 14 days postconception results in monozygotic twins. They share virtually all their genes and, with very rare exception due to unusual embryological events, are of the same sex. A common assumption is that because monozygotic co-twins have a shared heredity, their behavioral or physical differences are fully explained by environmental factors. However, monozygotic twins are never exactly alike in any measured trait, and may even differ for genetic reasons.

Sometimes chromosomes fail to separate after fertilization, causing some cells to contain the normal chromosome number (46) and others to contain an abnormal number. This process, mosaicism, results in monozygotic co-twins who differ in chromosomal constitution. There are several other intriguing variations of monozygotic twinning. Splitting of the zygote after day 7 or 8 may lead to mirror-image reversal in certain traits, such as handedness or direction of hair whorl. The timing of zygotic division has also been associated with placentation. Monozygotic twins resulting from earlier zygotic division have separate placentae and fetal membranes (chorion and amnion), while monozygotic twins resulting from later zygotic division share some or all of these structures. Should the zygote divide after 14 days, the twins may fail to separate completely. This process, known as conjoined twinning, occurs in approximately 1 monozygotic twin birth out of 200. The many varieties of conjoined twins differ as to the nature and extent of their shared anatomy. Approximately 70% of such twins are female. There do not appear to be any predisposing factors to conjoined twinning. See Mosaicism

Dizygotic twins

Dizygotic twins result when two different eggs undergo fertilization by two different spermatozoa, not necessarily at the same time. Dizygotic twins share, on average, 50% of their genes, by descent, so that the genetic relationship between dizygotic co-twins is exactly the same as that of ordinary brothers or sisters. Dizygotic twins may be of the same or opposite sex, outcomes that occur with approximately equal frequency.

There are some unusual variations of dizygotic twinning. There is the possibility of polar body twinning, whereby divisions of the ovum prior to fertilization by separate spermatozoa could result in twins whose genetic relatedness falls between that of monozygotic and dizygotic twins. Blood chimerism, another variation, refers to the presence of more than one distinct red blood cell population, derived from two zygotes, and has been explained by connections between two placentae. In humans, chimerism can occur in dizygotic twins. Superfecundation is the conception of dizygotic twins following separate fertilizations, usually within several days, in which case each co-twin could have a different father. Superfetation, which refers to multiple conceptions occurring several weeks or even one month apart, may be evidenced by delivery of full-term infants separated by weeks or months and by the birth or abortion of twin infants displaying differential developmental status.


According to conventional twinning rates, monozygotic twins represent approximately one-third of twins born in Caucasian populations and occur at a rate of 3–4 per 1000 births. The biological events responsible for monozygotic twinning are not well understood. It is generally agreed that monozygotic twinning occurs randomly and not as a genetically transmitted tendency. Some recent evidence from Sweden suggests an increased tendency for mothers who are monozygotic twins to bear same-sex twins themselves; further work will be needed to resolve this question.

Dizygotic twinning represents approximately two-thirds of twins born in Caucasian populations. The dizygotic twinning rate is lowest among Asian populations (2 per 1000 births), intermediate among Caucasian populations (8 per 1000 births), and highest among African populations (50 per 1000 births in parts of Nigeria). The natural twinning rate increases with maternal age, up to between 35 and 39 years, and then declines. Dizygotic twinning has also been linked to increased parity, or the number of children to which a woman has previously given birth. Mothers of dizygotic twins are also significantly taller and heavier, on average, than mothers of monozygotic twins and singletons. Dizygotic twinning appears to be genetically influenced, although the pattern of transmission within families is unknown.

Twinning rates have risen dramatically since about 1980 mainly due to advances in fertility treatments (for example, in vitro fertilization and ovulation induction), but also due to delays in the child-bearing years. The increase has mainly involved dizygotic twinning in which multiple ovulation and maternal age matter.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

What does it mean when you dream about twins?

The appearance in a dream of two of a kind (people or animals) may symbolize the union of opposites, or a duality of consciousness, either in harmony with, or in conflict between, ideas and decisions. The dreamer may be demonstrating two distinct personalities.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


See also Doubles.
Alcmena’s sons
born in single delivery but conceived by two men. [Rom. Lit.: Amphitryon]
identically named sons of Aegeon and Emilia. [Br. Lit.: Comedy of Errors]
Apollo and Artemis
twin brother and sister; children of Leta and Zeus. [Gk. Myth.: NCE, 125–126]
Bobbsey Twins
two sets of twins share adventures. [Children’s Lit.: Bobbsey Twins’ Mystery at Meadowbrook]
Castor and Pollux
sons of Leda and Zeus, placed in heaven as constellation Gemini. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 52]
Comedy of Errors
based on Plautus’s Menaechmi, with two sets of twins. [Br. Lit.: Comedy of Errors]
de Franchi, Lucien and Louis
one twin instinctively feels what happens to other. [Fr. Lit.: The Corsican Brothers]
Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux)
Spartan brothers. [Gk. Myth.: Avery, 408; Leach, 314]
Donny, the Misses
twin principals of Greenleaf boarding school. [Br. Lit.: Bleak House]
Dromio of Ephesus; Dromio of Syracuse. [Br. Lit.: Comedy of Errors]
Gemini (Castor and Pollux)
zodiacal twins; [Gk. Myth.: NCE, 1056]
Katzenjammer Kids
early comic strip featured incorrigible twins. [Comics: “The Captain and the Kids” in Horn, 421]
Man in the Iron Mask
Bastille prisoner learns that he is the twin brother of Louis XIV; conspirators planned to substitute him for the king. [Fr. Lit.: Dumas Vicomte de Bragellonne in Magill I, 1063]
comedy, by Plautus, about mistakes involving identical twins. [Rom. Lit.: Menaechmi]
Mike and Ike
short lookalike twins with derbies. [Comics: Horn, 492]
Perez and Zerah
born to Tamar; conceived by father-in-law, Judah. [O.T.: Genesis 38:29–30]
Romulus and Remus
suckled by she-wolf; founded Rome. [Rom. Myth.: Wheeler, 320]
Siamese twins
Eng and Chang (1814–74), the original pair, were connected at the chest. [Medical Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 828]
Tweedledum and Tweedledee
identical characters in children’s fantasy. [Br. Lit.: Through the Looking-Glass]
two circles
symbol of twins; in particular, Castor and Pollux [Gk. Myth.: Jobes, 343]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


If your dream entails giving birth to twins, or if you are dreaming about baby twins, please see “birth.” Twins in astrology represent opposites, and we may use this symbolism to explain our dream. The twins could suggest a duality in thoughts, ideas, feelings, or states of consciousness. The details of the dream will give you a clue to whether or not these varying aspects are in harmony or in conflict with each other. The twins could also represent the balance that is extremely important to our emotional and psychological health. Old dream interpretation books say that dreaming about adult twins foretells of “double trouble followed by double joy.”
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.