A Belfast woman has given birth to six babies, it was disclosed today.
The four girls and two boys were delivered by caesarean section this morning at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast.
The babies were conceived naturally with the mother not undergoing any fertility treatment.
The births took place between 11.19 and 11.24am. The family have requested their privacy be respected.
"The sextuplets are in intensive care after being delivered by Caesarean section," Dr Clifford Mayes said.
"They are doing as well as could be expected after being born 14 weeks early.
They were conceived naturally without the aid of IVF, the first case of its kind in Ireland north or south."
The babies weighed between 1lb 7oz and 2lb 2oz.
Dr Mayes added: "This is both a happy time and a potentially difficult time."
"It is an extraordinary thing to have witnessed but you are also struck by the fact that there are little babies in intensive care."
He said there had been weeks of preparation including technical experts from across Northern Ireland.
"We have planned very carefully for today and today went as well as we had hoped it would.
"The care of the babies would be the care we would normally expect for any baby."
Midwifery sister Patricia Denvir was the lead midwife involved.
"It is a very stressful situation both for our staff, all of the staff involved and also for the parents, but it's a situation that went very well," she said.
She added: "The mother was very composed; under a very stressful situation both parents were very composed and they dealt with it very well.
"It is a very emotional time but it's also very stressful for all concerned."
Dr Mayes said it would be impossible for a woman to go full term with six babies - she might make 30 weeks at best - but the mother made it to 26 weeks.
In December 2002 Rhonda and Noel Loughran, from Cabragh, Co Tyrone, became parents to only the 12th set of natural quintuplets to be born worldwide since records began.
The proportion of multiple births has increased by 20% in the last decade, figures for England and Wales show.
The sextuplets' parents have requested that the family's privacy is respected and they will not be available for photographs.
A total of 30 medical staff were involved in today's delivery.
The birth of sextuplets is rare, occurring in one out of 4.5m pregnancies.
The births equal the British record set by the Walton family in Liverpool in 1983.
In February, Nadya Suleman, gave birth to octuplets in California.
Chief executive of the Twins and Multiple Births Association (Tamba) Keith Reed confirmed the Belfast births were the first case of sextuplets in the UK since the Walton family.
"This is wonderful news," he said.
And while he said multiple births could present many difficulties for health professionals and for the parents, he said the experience can also be rewarding for the families involved.
"Around half of the 11,000 multiple births each year are premature resulting in one or more of their babies being cared for in a neo natal intensive care unit so our families understand the roller coaster of emotions this family will be on," he said.
"Although this family will be being well looked after in hospital, they will need the support of their family, friends, and their local authorities because these babies will require over 48 hours of care each day."
Tamba researches the needs of multiple birth families and campaigns for greater support for them.
Mr Reed said: "Sadly there is no statutory obligation for local authorities to provide care to multiple birth families."
WALTONS WELCOME FELLOW SEXTUPLETS
It was back in 1983 when Janet and Graham Walton proudly showed off their six girls to the world.
The first all-female surviving sextuplets - Hannah, Lucy, Ruth, Sarah, Kate and Jenny - are now aged 25 and four of them are still living with their parents in Wallasey, Merseyside.
Father Graham, 58, a painter and decorator, today urged the parents of Belfast's six new arrivals to "enjoy every minute".
He said: "I would never offer anyone advice on how to raise their children, but as a father of sextuplets, I can say a sense of humour is vital.
"The new parents will have to be organised. My wife is so very organised, we had to be, changing nappies, feeding, sleeping, at all hours of the day and night.
"There was so much do and think about and there was never enough time.
"But all you can do is keep smiling and enjoy every minute of it."
Mr Walton has been married to Janet, 56, for 31 years. Mrs Walton now runs the Newborn Appeal at Liverpool Women's Hospital.
Hannah is now at teacher training college, Jenny is a dancer, Ruth is working at Manchester Airport with customers who have special requirements, Kate works at Liverpool John Moores University, Sarah works at a medical centre and Lucy works at a local hospital.
Mr Walton said he's very proud of all his girls.
He added: "As soon as it was announced that we had had six girls the media interest was huge.
"The publicity that comes with multiple births is amazing, it's quite a shock - and it comes on top of the shock having so many children to look after.
"I remember going home from the hospital that night and I couldn't get to my front door because of all the reporters.
"The girls are all working with people because they love meeting people. I think that is the result of all the interest shown in them over the years.
"Every time Janet and I left the house, to go to the shops or on holiday, people would stop and talk to us and the girls.
"There has always been an amazing amount of goodwill and support.
"This situation was thrust upon us and we adapted as I'm sure the parents in Belfast will adapt.
"All I can say to them is that there will be lots of tears, as with any family, but there will also be lots of fun and special times ahead."
Related link: Facts about sextuplets