Couples may have their own ideas and plans about the size and timing of their family. However, women and their partners should be educated on the importance of spacing their children to increase the chance of a positive outcome for every pregnancy. Research shows that waiting 18-23 months between the delivery of one child and conception of the next is the best for the health and well-being of the mother and her children.
Why Space Pregnancies
Research has shown that pregnancies that occur less than 18 months apart can lead to poor pregnancy outcomes for both mother and baby.
Short pregnancy spacing increases the risk for:
- Low birth weight – baby weighs less than 5 lbs. 8 oz. at birth
- Small for gestational age
- Preterm/Premature birth – baby born before the 37th week of pregnancy
Short pregnancy spacing also increases mother’s risk for:
- Preterm labor – labor that begins before the 37th week of pregnancy
- Uterine rupture
- Third trimester bleeding
- Mental health issues – moms are more likely to have postpartum depression and increased stress levels
Furthermore, a woman’s body is often in a different condition from one pregnancy to the next. By the second pregnancy, especially if it happens less than 18 months after the last birth and is coupled with breastfeeding, the body can be depleted of vital nutrients such as folic acid and iron. Additionally, even though most women may feel good and are physically doing well 6 weeks postpartum, it may take more time to return to a healthy weight, increase their exercise and strength, improve muscle tone (particularly abdominal and pelvic floor muscles) and begin or increase sexual activity.
Using family planning methods to time and space pregnancies is a very effective way to improve pregnancy outcomes. Fertility varies from woman to woman and can return a few weeks or a few months postpartum so couples should be advised to correctly and consistently use birth control to prevent pregnancy.
There is no perfect time to have a new baby. And, even with careful planning, a couple can’t always control when a pregnancy may happen. However, communicating the risk of short pregnancy spacing and the benefits of planning pregnancies can help them make an informed decision about when to expand their family. The healthiest pregnancy is a planned pregnancy.