The Guinness Book of World Records 2004 edition describes Mrs. Feodor Vassilyev, the wife of a Shuya, Russia peasant, as the most prolific mother ever. According to Guinness, Mrs. Feodor Vassilyev (who was apparently
too busy breeding to protest history's failure to record her first name) gave birth to 69 children, including 16 pair of twins, 7 sets of triplets, and 4 sets of quadruplets.
Before jumping on the bandwagon and endorsing the story that Mrs. Feodor Vassilyev is the most prolific mother ever with 69 live births, skeptical readers might note that her alleged feat took place during the 1700s. Mrs. Feodor Vassilyev is said to have lived from 1707 to 1782.
Skeptics might also notice that Guinness Book of World Records claimed in 1983 that a Chilean woman with 58 children was the world's most prolific mother. After Mrs. Leontina Espinoza of Chile died, a police investigation determined that this most prolific mother had lied, adding 42 extra offspring to her actual tally of 16. The Chilean government determined that Leontina had concocted the story of giving birth to 58 children in order to obtain government provided food assistance.
Beyond the fact that Guinness Book of World Records apparently failed to detect Leontina's lie when publishing her name as the world's most prolific mother, how could the world record producer claim 58 children was a record for most prolific mother in 1983 if a Russian peasant had produced 69 children in the 1700s?
Belated discovery of Mrs. Feodor Vassilyev, perhaps?
Interest in the identity of the world's most prolific mother heightened with Michelle Duggar's announcement a little more than a week ago that she is pregnant with her 19th child.
The Guinness Book identification of Vassilyev as the most prolific mother in history has been repeated across the internet. But does this claim bear the indicia of reliability?
According to Wikipedia, the occurrence of triplets before ovary-stimulating drugs became available was 1:8000, with higher order multiples even rarer.