BELLFLOWER, Calif. – A woman in Southern California gave birth Monday to the second set of octuplets ever delivered alive in the United States.
Doctors described the six boys and two girls as a feisty bunch who made their entrance kicking and crying and seemed to be doing remarkably well, despite arriving nine weeks premature. They ranged in weight from 1 pound, 8 ounces (0.45 kilograms), to 3 pounds, 4 ounces (0.9 meters).
"We were fortunate that this patient was extremely strong, very courageous and able to handle these births," said Dr. Karen E. Maples, who is chief of service for obstetrics and gynecology at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center and delivered Baby No. 8.
No pictures of the children were released, and at the mother's request doctors declined to reveal her name, any information about her family or whether she took fertility drugs before becoming pregnant, though outside experts said it is almost certain she did.
The chances of delivering eight babies naturally are "unbelievably rare," said Dr. Richard Paulson, director of the fertility program at the University of Southern California.
The babies have not been named yet, and the staff assigned them letters A through H in the meantime. They were expected to remain hospitalized for several weeks and could face serious developmental problems later on because of their small size.
"They are doing amazingly well at this time," said Dr. Mandhir Gupta, a neonatologist who was part of the team of 46 doctors, nurses and others who took part in the cesarean section delivery. But he added: "I won't be able to comment on chances of survival because we've never had eight babies born at 30 weeks before."
The odds of survival drop off dramatically in multiple births, particularly if there are more than three babies. The risks include breathing and eating difficulties and growth problems because their lungs and other systems are often underdeveloped. They also may have hearing or vision problems and learning disabilities as they mature.
In fact, the risks in multiple births are so high that when a woman is pregnant with more than three babies, doctors routinely recommend "selective reduction," or aborting some of them. But Dr. Harold M. Henry, director of maternal-fetal medicine for the hospital, would not discuss what took place in this case.
The babies were still in incubators and their mother had not been able to hold them yet. Three had oxygen tubes up their noses to help them breathe. The first four were expected to begin taking milk sometime Tuesday, with the others shortly after that.
"That's the biggest test," Gupta said. "We want to make sure that they start tolerating and digesting the milk."
The woman and her doctors were actually expecting seven children, not eight. The delivery team was thinking the hard work was over after that seventh baby was removed from the womb, when another physician spotted another little hand, Maples said.
The mother reacted calmly to the news, said Dr. Jalil Riazi, an anesthesiologist. "Her question was, 'Really, an eighth baby? How did we miss that baby?"' he said.
The mother had checked into the hospital in her 23rd week and spent nearly two months working with doctors in preparation for the big day. Mainly she got a lot of bed rest, Maples said, while the medical team repeatedly conducted practice sessions.
As word of the births spread people began to call with offers of cribs, strollers, baby clothes and other items, said hospital spokeswoman Carmen Gonzalez.
"We're compiling a list of things that people want to donate," she said, adding the mother will review the list and decide what she needs.
The world's first live octuplets were born in 1967 in Mexico City, but all died within 14 hours, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
The United States' first live octuplets were born in Houston in 1998, three months premature. The tiniest died a week after the birth. The surviving siblings turned 10 in December and were reported to be doing well by their mother.
"It's wonderful watching them be together. They are happy to have each other. They're doing their homework right now," Nkem Chukwu said Monday.