I am a happy mom of 3 wonderful kids aged 12, 8, and 2. All our children belong to different age groups and you may wonder why there’s such a gap between them. Is this planned or did it just happen that way? Basically, the difference in their ages played both an advantage and a disadvantage to our family.
My husband and I came from families having children with a 1-2 year age gap, so we both know how it’s like to have siblings whose age is very close to each other. We already had a basis even before we started building our own family. Maybe we both knew that birth spacing is ideal for our family physically, emotionally, and financially speaking. Looking back and speaking based on our own experience, we think that the benefits of birth spacing outweighed the downsides.
How soon after giving birth can you get pregnant? If you’ve just given birth, you need to discuss such questions with your husband. After all, the topic of birth spacing is a family affair.
What is birth spacing?
Birth spacing is the practice of waiting before getting pregnant again. This length of time between birth and conception of the next pregnancy is also referred to as interpregnancy interval (IPI) or inter-birth interval. An interval of 18 months from your last childbirth is the usual recommendation for ideal spacing between pregnancies. It ensures that you will be at your optimum health to carry another child. Your body needs to recover as it went through a lot during your last pregnancy.
How long should you wait to have another baby?
A study by Harvard University and the University of British Columbia found that 12-18 months was the ideal length of time between giving birth and becoming pregnant again. The study found that a short IPI of less than 12 months is associated with increased maternal, fetal, and infant risks for women aged 20-34 years and women 35 years or older at index birth.
However, the current WHO birth spacing guidelines recommend that the minimum interval between a live birth and attempting the next pregnancy should be 18-24 months, but not more than 5 years before trying to become pregnant again. According to the WHO, this interval will reduce the risks such as maternal death, premature delivery, or even stillbirth.
Suppose your next pregnancy is spaced less than the recommended period. In that case, there are higher chances that prenatal appointments will be delayed considering how much of a handful having a toddler or a small child is. This could result in undiagnosed pregnancy-related complications, premature birth, or even lead to maternal death.
According to a birth spacing report from the CDC, both short and long IPIs are associated with adverse perinatal outcomes. But further studies are needed to assess whether IPI is independently associated with these adverse health outcomes adverse or whether these relationships are due to other confounding factors such as maternal age, pregnancy health behaviors, or socioeconomic status.
If you’ve had a miscarriage and you’re healthy and feel ready to try to conceive, the birth spacing recommendations and risks don’t apply. Once you’ve physically recovered and emotionally prepared, ask your doctor for guidance, then start trying. In the US, the most common recommendation was to wait 3 months for the uterus to heal and cycles to get back to normal. In comparison, the WHO recommends 6 months to let the body heal.
You could ovulate and become pregnant as soon as 2 weeks after a miscarriage if it occurred within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. Still, your period may take 4-6 weeks to return. If it happened in the later stages, your cycle might take longer to adjust.
The benefits of birth spacing
Since our children are years apart, we were physically, emotionally, and mentally ready to have another child. There were no questions about the financial aspect either. We were all excited to welcome the new addition to our family and give our best during our pregnancies.
Here are the benefits of healthy birth spacing for you, your baby and the rest of the family.
- Your baby can be born at the right time and with a healthy weight. Carefully considering and spacing your pregnancy according to your personal and medical circumstances will prevent premature births, low birth weight, and even congenital disorders.
- It prevents the risk of maternal complications. Taking a break from the physical demands of pregnancy helps avoid the risk of developing maternal anemia and placental abruption.
- It reduces the risk of autism in your next child. Recent studies suggest that autism’s risk is notably higher when you conceive less than 12 months after your last childbirth.
- You get maximum benefits of breastfeeding your child. Exclusive breastfeeding can pose the threat of miscarriage on the subsequent pregnancy that has a closer gap. If you choose birth spacing, you’ll be able to spend quality time with your child before having another one.
- You’re covered financially. Your family will not face gigantic bills to cover for 2 or more children with lesser age gaps. From food to health care to education, you should take the expenses lightly.
- Adequate spacing ensures you’re already emotionally stable to take care of another child. Demands are less and thus an advantage when it comes to your mental health.
The disadvantages of birth spacing
Inadequate birth spacing also has its downside. The challenges are not only for you and your child, but may significantly affect your family as a whole. The disadvantages may vary according to the length of the gap between your pregnancies.
- If you have an IPI of 1 year, this will ultimately take a toll on your body. Your body went through so much for the last 40 weeks you were pregnant. Although it’s possible to get pregnant even at 2 months postpartum, this isn’t an ideal situation, especially for your child who also needs your undivided attention.
- If you have an IPI of 2-3 years, there’s a possibility of sibling jealousy when the new baby is born. It happened to us when we had our 2nd child. We just needed to explain to our older kid that he shouldn’t be jealous and that we don’t love him any less with her baby sister around. The chores may still be a handful considering that your older child still cannot tend to himself at this point.
- A long spacing interval of more than 5 years has many birth complications, especially if you plan pregnancy spacing after 35. Aside from the possibility of fertility issues, there’s a heightened risk of chromosomal abnormality compared to getting pregnant in your 20s or early 30s. Getting pregnant after 35 also increases the risk of gestational diabetes and hypertension, leading to a C-section.
- A long spacing interval leaves you questioning your parenting knowledge and methods. You will often find yourself wondering if you’re making the right choices. For instance, with my 3rd child, I had did a lot of reading, on many topics from breastfeeding, babywearing to newborn care. I felt rusty considering the 6 year age gap with my 2nd child. What seems to be very evident with our kids who had more than 3 years gap is that they don’t relate that well because of their different interests.
Birth spacing methods
If you have decided to do birth spacing, you should also use an appropriate family planning method. Approximately 62% of married women of reproductive age have used a family planning method globally, while 56% use the modern methods. A significant factor when choosing a method is that both you and your partner are comfortable about it and are aware of the risks involved.
Some of the most common birth spacing methods include:
- Birth control implant: A matchstick-like rod implanted in your arm that releases hormones and prevents you from getting pregnant. You are protected from getting pregnant for 5 years. Your doctor can reverse this method at any given time you wish to conceive again.
- Birth control shot (Depo-Provera shot): It contains the hormone progestin that prevents you from ovulating. To get the full efficacy of this method, you should get yourself inoculated every 12-13 weeks.
- Birth control pill: A safe, affordable, and effective means of birth control if you diligently take the pill as you’re supposed to at the same time every day.
- Intrauterine device (IUD): A flexible T-shaped device placed in your uterus to prevent fertilization. This is one of the most effective forms of birth control and can work for a maximum of 12 years, depending on the IUD type you choose.
- Condoms: They protect against sexually transmitted diseases but are also a form of contraception. It is accessible, affordable, and is 85% effective if properly used.
- Fertility awareness methods (FAM): You track your ovulation to prevent pregnancy. You can determine whether you’re ovulating by taking your temperature, checking your vaginal discharge, or charting your menstrual cycle.
- Tubal ligation: A surgical procedure to permanently prevent you from getting pregnant through cutting, tying, or blocking your fallopian tubes.
- Vasectomy: A minor surgical procedure where the tubes that carry sperm (vas deferens) are cut and tied or sealed to block sperm from reaching the semen ejaculated from the penis. This then prevents fertilization after sexual intercourse.
- Exclusive breastfeeding: A healthy and natural form of contraception, but this can only be considered effective for the 1st 6 months of your baby’s life. So, if you plan to do healthy birth spacing, you should consider another method as soon as your baby is ready to take his solids or plan to do mixed feeding.
The choice of birth control method is really up to you, but always consult your doctor so as to make an informed decision on what will be your best and healthiest option.
Birth spacing worked wonders for our family. We are just glad that we decided to take it slow when it comes to having another child. Although there had been hiccups considering the age difference, I’d like to think that these are all minor compared to the benefits we are reaping now. The biggest achievement is that we get to plan our kids’ future the way we want to. Due to child spacing, we’re capable of providing what they need.