Poof! Ever heard of a vanishing twin?

Imagine a scenario where an expectant mother goes for a routine ultrasound in the early days of her pregnancy. Her gynaecologist picks up two little heartbeats for two foetuses, and tells the mum-to-be that she is expecting twins. During a follow-up six weeks later, the doctor reports that only one heartbeat can be detected. It’s as if the other twin silently disappeared. This condition is aptly named the vanishing twin syndrome.

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What exactly is a vanishing twin?

In some cases, it is considered “normal” for one or more foetuses to mysteriously disappear from the womb during the first trimester, resulting in a normal, healthy singleton pregnancy. When one foetus is spontaneously aborted, it is absorbed by the remaining twin, placenta and the mother. Unlike a miscarriage, you are less likely to experience any pain or symptoms.

On the other hand, symptoms can mimic that of a miscarriage, but the singleton in the womb will remain unaffected. The vanishing twin syndrome is not a life-threatening situation if it occurs during the first trimester.

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Just as there is no single cause of miscarriage, there is no clear-cut explanation as to why this happens. It could be due to chromosomal abnormalities or poor implantation of the placenta.

How common is the vanishing twin syndrome?

It might be hard to believe, but it is estimated that one in every eight babies shared a womb with another spontaneously aborted foetus. Thanks to recent advances in medical technology, the detection of this syndrome has been made possible. Expectant mothers in the past would not have known that a second foetus had existed.

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Recovering from the vanishing twin syndrome

If the twin foetus is spontaneously aborted during the first trimester, there is generally no physical ramifications to the mum or the surviving baby. Parents, however, might still go through the emotional loss of one baby. One mother says that it feels as if you are attending a birthday party and a funeral in the same room. It is important to allow yourself time to grieve, but also to celebrate the life that is still growing inside you.

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