Coping with a multiple birth can be challenging
Two thirds of parents of twins and multiple births are being denied access to vital birth advice, a poll suggests.
The charity Tamba (Twins and Multiple Births Association) says such support improves outcomes and can help prevent post-natal depression.
Advice should include how to breastfeed many mouths and where to seek help.
Only 36% of 1,300 mothers it surveyed had been offered specific parenting education sessions to prepare them for caring for twins, triplets or more.
Most of these were one-off sessions organised by the hospital.
Mothers-to-be who do not attend such sessions miss out on important specific advice, including on how to have a healthy multiple pregnancy and how to identify and avoid multiple pregnancy complications, says Tamba.
"This is worrying as multiple-specific parent education and nutritional programmes have been found to have improved outcomes for babies and mothers," says the charity.
The number of multiple birth pregnancies has increased dramatically in the last three decades, so that now approximately one in 30 births involves twins.
Although many multiple pregnancies do run smoothly, they are generally classed as higher risk because of the increased chance of complications, such as premature birth.
According to Tamba, evidence shows tailored parenting advice makes a difference to outcomes - newborn babies are less likely to suffer problems or require medical interventions and are also less likely to have a preterm birth.
Their birth weights are higher and they have a shorter hospital stay.
Mothers too are less likely to hospital stays or experience complications, including post-natal depression (PND).
Overall, 17% of the mothers surveyed experienced depression, which is nearly the double the widely reported estimate of all mothers who develop PND.
For mothers who did access targeted education classes the rate was 15%, compared with 19% for those who did not have the classes.
Tamba chief executive Keith Reed said: "At the moment it is a matter of luck if parents-to-be get on to education classes tailored to multiple pregnancy to help prepare them. The rest are left scrabbling around on the internet for advice.
"This education should be the rule, not the exception."
Multiple Births Foundation director Jane Denton agreed there was great inconsistency in provision.
She said multiple birth parents needed continued support.
"They need specific support to help them cope with the practicalities of having two or more new babies. They need support to establish breast feeding," she said.
"Equally important is looking at strategies so the parents do not become completely exhausted through caring."
The government watchdog NICE is developing national guidelines on the management of multiple pregnancies, but these are not expected until 2011.
Tamba has produced its own guidance for parents that can be downloaded from its website for free.