April 2, 2019

This woman left the hospital with a newborn. 26 days later, she delivered twins.

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Dec. 2, 2020.

    In February, Arifa Sultana, 20, delivered a healthy baby boy at a hospital in southwestern Bangladesh, but when she returned to the doctor for stomach pains just 26 days later, she found out that she was still pregnant—with twins.

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    The unexpected delivery

    Sultana's initial deliver went smoothly, but on March 21, just 26 days after her son was born, Sultana returned to the hospital. She'd begun experiencing abdominal pain and had another release of amniotic fluid—a signal that a baby is coming.

    Sultana received an ultrasound, and it revealed that Sultana had a second uterus—as well as a set of fraternal twins developing inside. The amniotic fluid had been her water breaking for this second pregnancy.

    Sheila Poddar, a gynecologist who treated Sultana, performed an emergency caesarean section to deliver the twins, a healthy boy and girl, and sent Sultana home after four days in the hospital.  

    A rare condition that resulted in a 'triple whammy' pregnancy

    The technical term for Sultana's condition—being born with two uteruses—is uterus didelphys.

    The condition is rare, but Sultana's "triple whammy" pregnancy is not the first of its kind, according to Gizmodo. In fact, a case report published in 1981 documented a similar triple birth, in which a mother delivered two babies at 27 weeks and a third baby 72 days later.

    It's unclear exactly how many women have the condition, according to Gizmodo, but a review published in 2011 estimated that 0.3% of women in the world are affected by the condition.

    Part of what makes Sultana's case especially noteworthy, according to Gizmodo, is that no one knew about it before she went into labor with the twins. According to Poddar, since ultrasound is not a standard practice during pregnancy in Bangladesh, doctors at Khulna Medical College Hospital never performed an ultrasound during Sultana's pregnancy. If they had, they would have noticed the second uterus and the twins, she said.

    Separately, Beth Rackow, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University's Irving Medical Center, said it was noteworthy that Sultana did not experience serious complications. "Each uterus is more like half a uterus, not full-size. So we worry about space constraints, we worry about blood supply, and we worry about the placentas working as well," Rackow said.

    As for Sultana, Poddar said she and her babies "are all healthy." Poddar added, "I am very, very happy that everything went well" (Cara, Gizmodo, 2/28; AFP/New Straits Times, 3/27; Weiss, The Atlantic, 3/29; BBC, 3/28).

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