As the world marvels at the birth of octuplets in California, bean counters may be marveling at something else -- the sheer cost of bringing the babies into the world.
The infants' delivery was performed by a team of 46 doctors, nurses and surgical assistants stationed in four delivery rooms at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center in Bellflower, Calif., and it likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"You can think of it as an eightfold increase on a singleton birth," said Steven M. Donn, director of the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at the University of Michigan Health System. "By comparison, the mother's care will probably be a bargain."
Costs for the average delivery of a full-term pregnancy range from $9,000 to $25,000, depending on whether the baby is delivered by Caesarean section or vaginally. Eight times $25,000 is a whopping $200,000.
"For reasons we don't completely understand, risks with multifetal deliveries are greater than [normal births]," Donn said.
The medical costs for babies born preterm, like the California octuplets, which were born nine weeks premature, are also above average.
"The real significant costs come on the pediatric side, particularly when it comes to neonatal intensive care," said Dr. Geeta Swamy, a maternal-fetal specialist at Duke University Medical Center.
A full-term pregnancy lasts from 38 to 42 weeks, according to the National Institutes of Health, and Swamy estimated for babies born at 30 weeks the hospital stay could be "anywhere from six weeks to six months."
For an infant stay in a neonatal intensive care unit, costs can add up to "a few thousand a day," she said.
"So we are looking at probably several hundreds of thousands of dollars for the family. If it is $100,000 per baby, for example, then it would be $800,000 for all eight," Swamy said.
Little is known about the parents of the California octuplets, as their mother has asked the hospital to keep her identity private. But University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan said the costs of medical care for multiple-birth babies can put economic pressure on families.
Caplan believes there are ethical concerns surrounding the decision to move forward with multiple-fetus pregnancies. Though the means by which eight fetuses were obtained in this case remain unclear, he said there is little excuse for the outcome.
"Anyone who transfers eight embryos should be arrested for malpractice," Caplan said. "If they superovulated someone and they detected many eggs available and they didn't warn them about having sex, that would be a problem too."
Studies have shown that the tendency toward prematurity and low birth weight in multiple-birth babies puts them at greater risk for a variety of complications, including respiratory problems at birth, cerebral palsy, birth defects, sensory disorders and even death. These risks increase as the number of babies in the multiple birth increases.
Dr. Richard Paulson, chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, agreed that multiple births are a problem that should be avoided at all costs.