By Jill Heink
Higher Order Multiples Coordinator
All parents feel anxious at times about their children's health, but for HOM parents, the anxiety factor is often multiplied by more than just the number of babies. The majority of higher order multiples (triplets, quads, quints, and more) are born prior to 32 weeks gestation, weigh generally less than 2,500 grams (5.5 lbs.), and need to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit from a few days to a significantly longer amount of time. So it's usually a delicate start for most HOM babies, and their parents definitely need to be on alert and have a plan when these babies develop colds, fevers, coughing, and so on. Fortunately, modern medicine continues to help parents with these scary situations. Following are some health issues that parents need to think about - as always, consult your own doctor with your family's questions and concerns:
RSV - this is a respiratory virus that comes on like a cold but can cause a serious lung infection, especially in preemies. RSV is very common - most children have had it by the time they're two - and it is very contagious. When one multiple contracts RSV, there is a very high probability that the other multiples will also come down with it. Synagis is a medication approved about 10 years ago for preventing RSV in high-risk infants. All HOM parents should at least discuss Synagis therapy during the cold and flu season with their pediatricians and decide if their children should receive it. For more information, check out the website at www.rsvprotection.com.
Flu - this is another common and very unwelcome virus that is very dangerous for young children (and others). Again, when a family has several young children all the same age, the flu can spread rapidly through the family and quickly make everyone very sick. Parents are probably aware that flu shots are available each year, may not know that the Center for Disease Control now recommends flu shots for children aged six months through their 5th birthday (www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm). My local club discussed this very issue on our online user group network at the beginning of the flu season last year - some parents were worried about the flu shot causing the flu in their young children. The flu shot made in the U.S. is made from an influenza virus which has been killed, so people cannot catch the flu from receiving the shot. However, because the nasal spray flu vaccine is made from live viruses, it may cause mild flu-like symptoms. Again, discuss all concerns with you family doctor.
Vaccinations - immunization against disease is one of the greatest achievements of all time. Small groups of people have raised concerns about the quality of or even the need for vaccinations as more diseases are evidently becoming eradicated, but studies are showing that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. Again, the CDC is a good source of information at www.cdc.gov/Nip/publications/fs/gen/Why.htm. Should parents request the chicken pox vaccine? Definitely - chicken pox can be fatal (although this is very rare), and having chicken pox also increases the chance that an individual will contract shingles later in life.
Then, of course, there are the good habits we learn in school, in Scouts, on Sesame Street - remind your family to wash their hands frequently, eat properly, drink lots of water, get lots of rest, etc.
Even with the best practice, however, kids are going to get sick, so plan now how you're going to handle the worst case scenarios: everyone (including you) sick at one time, one or more babies getting sick late at night or on the weekend, etc. Talk to your doctor ahead of time about when it's time to go to the doctor's office or the emergency room. Have a backup plan in place for when you may need to call someone to care for the other children if you have to leave quickly with one or more. As always, keep a happy thought: we're heading out of the cold and flu season and into the warmer months - start thinking about picking up some fresh sunscreen!