Since 50% of twins are born before 37 weeks gestation, many parents find themselves dealing with the effects of prematurity on at least one of the twins. The initial effects of prematurity depend greatly on how premature the babies are when they are delivered. Most babies delivered at 37 weeks have very few complications; those born at or before 25 weeks gestation face the biggest challenges.
Those babies that avoid lifelong disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, blindness or deafness, often lag developmentally in large motor skills, small motor skills, and/or cognitive ability. While some children will "catch up" by school age, many will not.
A recently completed study in England followed very premature babies (born prior to 25 weeks) from birth to age 6 1/2. The study found that only 20% of these children had no disabilities at all; 34% had negligible issues, such as nearsightedness or low (but still normal) cognitive scores; and the rest had more serious problems, such as cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness and/or very low cognitive scores. To read more about this fascinating ongoing study, see the link at the bottom of the article.
In order to give children the best chance possible, women pregnant with twins should take every precaution to avoid premature birth. This involves getting good prenatal care, following doctor's orders, eating nutritiously, and avoiding activities that can bring on premature labor. Sometimes, though, nothing can stop an early labor once it begins--or a woman may find that she must deliver the babies to preserve her own health.
When premature birth can't be prevented, parents should seek out the very best care possible for their newborn premies. Initial care decisions can affect whether or not a child will have a disability. After bringing the babies home, parents should also seek out a pediatrician who will refer them to physical therapists, speech therapists, and other professionals who can assist the parents in keeping the children on track developmentally, as much as possible.
Premature birth is by no means a guarantee that a child will have a disability of some kind; however, prematurity does predispose a child towards having a disability. If premature birth can't be prevented, it's imperative that parents seek out professionals to assist them in assessing and correcting developmental obstacles if and when they arise.
EPICure Study on Premature Infants
Five Steps to a Healthy Twin Pregnancy
Some Effects of Mild Prematurity
Breastfeeding the Premature Baby