Even before you’ve fully adjusted to sleepless nights with your first newborn, you may be wondering how soon to start trying for your next child. Some parents love the idea of raising children close in age, while others prefer to space their children more widely apart, hoping to provide longer intervals of individual attention to each child. Of course, there’s no right answer for every family. But there are a number of issues to consider.
In planning your family, you’ll need to keep in mind a variety of factors such as your age, your overall health, your career plans, your family’s financial situation, the size of your home and whether you had difficulties conceiving or carrying your first pregnancy. You also should consider your current level of stress and whether you feel equipped to welcome another small person into your family at this time.
Advantages of Close Spacing
Some couples find a certain appeal in having children close together. Sure, there are a lot of diapers to change, but it may not be that difficult to organize a household to accommodate the needs of more than one small child. As children who are close in age grow together, they each have the advantage of a live-in playmate.
Downsides of Close Spacing
On the other hand, having kids close together can be exhausting. Having children less than two years apart can place a fair amount of wear and tear on mothers. Research studies have linked short intervals between pregnancies to higher rates of low-birth weight and preterm deliveries. Additionally, moms who become pregnant within two years of their first birth may feel tired and nauseous at a time when their first child still has substantial needs for closeness and physical attention. Young children may feel resentful of the attention directed to the newest member of the family.
What’s more, children don’t always have compatible sleeping schedules, and it can be hard to find time to rest. Competitive siblings may spend more of their time fighting than playing. Babysitting and childcare can be very expensive.
And there may be more serious consequences. International studies have shown that in countries where resources are limited, children born less than three years apart have a higher risk of newborn and childhood death. A study from Scotland reported a higher rate of newborn death in families where the interval between pregnancies was less than six months.
Spacing Children Farther Apart
There may be clear benefits to waiting. Spacing children farther apart allows the first one to be weaned, potty trained and somewhat independent before a new baby arrives. It may be easier to provide individual attention to each child, and at least one study reports higher average IQs in families with greater than two years between each birth. As an added benefit, older siblings may be able to help parents care for the new baby.
However, the drawbacks in this arrangement are that children may be less inclined to play with each other, and parents need to be creative to find activities that appeal to all ages. Children born many years apart may lose out on some of the enjoyment that comes with a having a sibling close in age with whom interests can be shared.
Of course, even if you and your partner do come up with your ideal family plan, it’s a good idea to stay flexible. Some women have trouble getting pregnant or experience a miscarriage. Other women end up with a “surprise” second pregnancy sooner than anticipated.
In my own family, I’ve had the experience of raising children with both close and wide spacing. My first two children were spaced two years apart; after many years of fighting they have finally become teen-age friends. My last daughter was born after a 10-year hiatus. She’s reaped the benefits of having two older siblings who are nurturing and who compete for her attention. While I have experienced many of the advantages and disadvantages associated with close and distant child spacing, I also know that flexible, resilient families can find joy in any arrangement.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.