Page last updated at 15:42 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

How do you raise octuplets?

As a US woman gives birth to octuplets, the BBC News website's Philippa Fogarty looks at how two parents might go about looking after eight babies.


The octuplets' mother says she wants to breastfeed her babies. This would not be impossible, says Amber Jones, director of maternity at the Tigerlily Childcare Agency, but would be complicated.

A baby sucks on a dummy
How do two parents soothe eight crying babies?

"The body is quite amazing, but it would depend if she had enough milk for all of them," she said.

With twins or triplets, most parents top up with formula. The octuplets' mother could express milk to ensure each baby gets some - but the logistics of getting it into them will also be extremely tricky.

A new-born baby needs to be fed every three hours, and each feed could take about 40 minutes. Furthermore, the babies are likely to be hungry at the same time. "If one baby wakes, the other wakes," Ms Jones says. "You can breastfeed two babies at the same time very easily - but you can't pick up eight babies at the same time, not safely."

Mum and a maternity nurse could probably handle three babies overnight, she says - so the proud parents will need quite a crowd to get them through the first weeks and months.


Young babies need to be changed after every feed, generally about seven times per day. So in the early days, at least, the octuplets' parents will be dealing with about 56 nappies per day and a whopping 392 nappies per week. If each change takes about five minutes, one person would have to dedicate nearly five hours to nappy changing in every 24.

Nkem Chukwu gave birth to octuplets in 1998. One of her babies died, but she and their father, Iyke Louis Udobi, are raising seven children.

The new mother will need "an army of volunteers to help her", said Nkem Chukwu, who was lucky enough to have such an army. "The volunteers were helping with diaper changing, with feeding, everything was well co-ordinated by the volunteers," she said. "I don't know how it happened, I don't know how we did it."

Some kind of system is a must, says Sarah Newell, sponsorship manager of the Twins and Multiple Births Association, Tamba. "You've got to remember who you've changed, who you've fed," she says. "You have to have records."


In March 2008 a US government report said that middle-income families could expect to spend $204,060 (145,071) on feeding, housing and schooling a child born in 2007 until his or her 18th birthday. So the octuplets' parents could be looking at a total outlay of more than $1.6m.

Rubber duck (file image)
The kids will need toys - and they will have to learn to share

Tamba's Sarah Newell, a mother of twins, says the family really will need eight of everything. "People always said to me: 'Two for the price of one'," she says. "It's the biggest load of rubbish ever!"

In the early days, they might have to look at the issue of how to get eight babies from A to B. One option would be for each parent to wheel a triple buggy while carrying an extra baby in a sling. But, says Amber Jones, again you have to think about safety. In the long term, they are likely to need a very big car, she says, with car seats for each child.

The parents will also need to think about housing and where they are going to put all their children. A bigger house may be necessary. And, in addition to the costs of daily living, they'll have to be prepared for spending spikes, for example, when they kit the children out for their first day at school.


Teaching one child to share parents and toys might be difficult, but how do you go about teaching eight? Plenty of room for sibling rivalry there.

But Amber Jones says that octuplets will soon realise that they have to wait for things to be done and they might not play up as much as children in smaller families. They'll copy each other, and may learn more quickly.

But, says Sarah Newell, as with any multiple birth, the children are going to have to compete for attention. The parents will be trying to split themselves between more children and it is important, she says, that they remember the babies are individuals. She does not recommend that they dress the octuplets in matching clothes; it might be cute, she says, but it does not help their development.


There is also the question of how having so many children will affect their parents. "Relationships are a key issue with multiple births," says Ms Newell, citing three main areas of stress - practical, financial and emotional.

"Just having twins brings huge issues and challenges to a relationship," she says. "Two babies equals more sleepless nights. Then multiply that by four."

The father has a vital role to play in helping give the mother as much rest as possible, and to ensure that she eats well, so that her body produces milk for the babies, Ms Jones says.

The father can do everything apart from breastfeeding, she adds. He can do formula, he can do nappies - and he will face a steep learning curve.


Finally, there is the question of whether the parents choose to give the media access to their children. Few families would welcome the intrusion, but interviews and sponsorship could help them meet the costs of raising so many babies.

The Walton sextuplets, just before their 16th birthday in November 1999
Britain's Walton sextuplets grew up in and out of the media spotlight

In 1983 sextuplets Hannah, Lucy, Ruth, Sarah, Kate and Jenny were born to Janet and Graham Walton, of Liverpool in the UK.

Graham, a painter and decorator, took 12 months off work to stay at home and help with the babies. Both he and his wife have since returned to work, but back then the financial strain was heavy, he said.

"We had to do an awful lot of television and newspaper articles just to financially survive because, as I said, both of us weren't working and that was the only money that was coming in," he said.

He believes the octuplets' parents will face a wave of interest. "The couple in America, they are going to have to face the media, very much so," he told the BBC. "They'll have to work for their supper, really. That's the way it works."

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