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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. Six boys and two girls. That's how many babies a woman gave birth to on Monday here in Southern California. The woman remains unidentified, but here's what we do know. These octuplets are record-setters. Eight is the largest number of infants to be delivered and survived so far. How many babies can survive inside one woman is a question Christopher Beam takes on for Slate's Explainer column. He joins us now. Hi, Christopher.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER BEAM (Columnist, Slate.com): Hello.

COHEN: We should preface by saying you usually cover politics for Slate, but you have been researching this question quite a bit. What was the largest number of babies ever in a woman's womb?

Mr. BEAM: Well, it's fair to say there's no limit per se, but the largest number ever recorded was 15. And that's quindecaplets that were recorded in 1971. An Italian doctor, a guy named Dr. Gennaro Montanino, reported that he had removed 15 fetuses from the womb of a 35-year-old woman. That was after she was four months pregnant. So presumably, it was for safety reasons.

COHEN: As you say, there's no scientific limit per se, and you explained that it's not so much about the number of fetuses as it is an amount in weight. Why is that?

Mr. BEAM: Well, for a couple of reasons. First, the fact that if you have enough weight in the womb, that's one thing that can cause the uterus to go into labor. So whether it's one fetus, two, or three, or eight, if you get - if you have enough volume or mass, it's going to signal to the uterus that, you know, it's time to get these things out of here. Another reason is just that it poses a safety risk to the mother. And once the uterus gets too full, it becomes harder to breath.

There's risk of developing pre-eclampsia, which is hypertension during pregnancy. And so for both those reasons, it ends up being more about weight than number.

COHEN: When I first heard about the woman here in California, what really shocked me was that she had all eight babies in five minutes. But of course, that's because it was a cesarean delivery and that, as you write, is pretty normal for multiple births. Why is that?

Mr. BEAM: Well, it's again for safety reasons. I think having a vaginal delivery with eight children is complicated. One, because once they come out of their amniotic sacs, they can get tangled up, and there's an interlocking problem. But also, just the amount of time and energy it would take to get that many fetuses out of the womb is not worth the risk, and cesarean sections are so easy now that there's no reason to take that risk.

COHEN: Christopher Beam's article "Womb for One More" appears now on Slate.com. Thanks.

Mr. BEAM: Thank you.

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