Doctors at a Berlin clinic said on Wednesday quadruplets, whose very premature births to a 65-year-old German mother have captured headlines and stirred debate, face big health risks.
Eight days after their delivery about 15 weeks early, two of the newborns are receiving help breathing and one has undergone surgery for an intestinal problem, said the medical experts at the prestigious Charite hospital.
Teacher Annegret Raunigk, who has already had 13 children, gave birth to the quadruplets by caesarian section in the 26th week of pregnancy, after travelling to Ukraine for fertility treatment with two anonymous donors.
Speaking at a press conference, doctors at the Berlin university clinic stressed their only concern was the health of the newborns and their mother, and they did not weigh into the ethical issues surrounding such a late pregnancy.
"These children need our help," said Christoph Buehrer, head of the Charite's neonatal services.
Head of obstetrics, Wolfgang Heinrich, said he did not believe there would now be lots of other cases like Raunigk's.
"In Germany we have reasonable specialist doctors in reproduction. They try to prevent" multiple embryo pregnancies, he added.
The quadruplets, three boys and a girl, who weighed between 655 and 960 grams (1.4 to 2.1 pounds) at birth, arrived before fully maturing in the womb, making them "absolute high risk" cases, Buehrer told reporters.
"These are children who can die, who can contract serious illnesses or have after-effects," he said.
"These are very fragile babies, but totally sweet," he added.
The mother, a Berlin teacher of Russian and English who is close to retirement age, has negotiated exclusive rights to her story with the private TV channel RTL.
The channel has released photos of the tiny intubated babies.
- 'Decide for oneself' -
Heinrich said that, to his knowledge, Raunigk -- an elegant red-haired woman with glasses -- was the oldest woman in the world to have given birth to quadruplets.
She has left the intensive care unit, is doing well and is able to express breastmilk to feed the babies, the doctors said.
She visits the quadruplets several times a day, holds them against her chest and caresses them, they added.
News of her multiple pregnancy emerged in April when she dismissed critics who said she was acting irresponsibly due to her age.
"How does one have to be at 65?" RTL quoted her as saying at the time. "One must apparently always fit some cliches which I find rather tiring.
"I think, one must decide that for oneself."
The grandmother of seven said that she decided to try to have another child because her youngest daughter, who was nine, wanted a little brother or sister.
Raunigk made headlines 10 years ago too, when she gave birth to her 13th child, Lelia, at the age of 55.
"At first, I only wanted one child," the Bild mass circulation daily quoted her as saying at the time.
"Not all were planned. But then things happen. I'm not a planner but rather spontaneous. And children keep me young."