Having more than one child requires patience, flexibility, and a sense of humor. It also involves figuring out the answer to the question of whether, when, and how to expand your family.
There are pros and cons to every possible spacing scenario, but ultimately, it’s whatever works best for your family. It’s a good idea to approach child spacing with an open mind.
Some parents prefer having kids close together, so the challenges (and joys!) of sleep deprivation, potty training, the terrible twos and threes (and the teen years) happen at the same time. Others like the idea of a larger gap that allows them to enjoy each phase with each child.
In addition to preference, there are also other factors that may influence the decision, including finances, parental relationships, and fertility concerns.
If you’re unsure where you land on child spacing, read on to find out what experienced parents and medical experts have to say.
If you or your partner are carrying pregnancies in order to grow your family, the safety of subsequent pregnancies is one consideration. You may find your doctor recommends taking some time between giving birth and getting pregnant again.
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Based on the study findings, they suggest the optimal time between giving birth and getting pregnant again is 18 months, with a range of 12 to 24 months.
That said, many experts still adhere to the recommendation of 18 to 24 months.
According to Kecia Gaither, MD, double board certified OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, it’s best to space pregnancies 18 to 24 months apart.
“Shorter interpregnancy intervals less than 18 months are associated with increased incidences of preterm births and low birth weight babies,” said Gaither.
If the prior delivery was by cesarean, Gaither said a shortened interpregnancy interval increases the risk of scar complications, like dehiscence (when an incision opens) or uterine rupture, in the next labor.
“Cesarean delivery weakens the uterine wall, and with a shortened pregnancy interval, there is incomplete scar healing, and thus increased risk for scar dehiscence/uterine rupture,” she explains.
Gaither said there is also an increased risk of placental complications, like abruption, with a shorter interval between births.
Beyond pregnancy and delivery complications, Gaither also pointed out that a shorter interval between pregnancies means the birth parent has reduced time to recover from pregnancy stressors like:
- weight gain
- depleted mineral and vitamin reserves
- changing emotional components
- physical demands of caring for the baby
Pediatricians are often asked if there is an ideal age gap between children. While it may seem like a simple question to answer, Robert Hamilton, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, said many factors go into this decision.
“Maternal age, the health of both mother and father, and financial, social, and educational issues are all factors to consider when having a second or third, or even the sixth child, as was our case,” he said.
Other than the increased risk of medical complications and extra stress that can happen with close pregnancies (fewer than 18 months apart), Hamilton said there is no perfect or “ideal spacing” answer that can be applied universally because every family is different.
Gina Posner, MD, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, said that in her practice when kids are born within a year or year and a half of each other, the parents tend to be really stressed out at first.
“Some people are OK with two kids in diapers at the same time, and others are not because of the stress and strain,” she said.
Like other experts, Posner said the decision is very individualized. However, when kids are 6 or more years apart, she does observe a very different relationship than kids born closer in age.
For Erin Artfitch, mom and founder of Blunders in Babyland, the ideal spacing for her family was 3 years.
“My daughters are almost exactly 3 years apart. We planned this age gap intentionally because we wanted our children to remain somewhat close in age so they could be good friends growing up together,” she said.
Artfitch also wanted her older daughter to be relatively independent before taking on the responsibilities associated with a newborn.
So far, this age gap has worked well.
“By the time our second daughter was born, our first was potty trained, slept independently in a double bed, and could mostly dress herself,” Artfitch said. “You never realize how handy these skills are until you’re nursing a newborn nonstop.”
After making it through this phase, Artfitch’s advice to other parents is not to allow social pressures to dictate when they have their kids.
“About a year after your first child is born, there’s a good chance people will start asking when you’ll have more. You also might feel pressured to have more children because you’ve been told your little one ‘needs’ a sibling. While siblings are great, only children are just as happy,” said Artfitch.
Alexandra Fung, mom of four (ages 13, 11, 3, and 1) and CEO of Upparent, said that although they planned the 2-year gap between the first two kids and last two kids, they had definitely not planned to wait as long as they did between their second and third, but love how it all worked out.
“On the one hand, a 2-year gap has meant that those two kids have been one another’s playmates all their lives, which is not only fun for them but has also made it a little easier on us as they get older and are better able to entertain one another,” she said.
Although it does make the early years a little more challenging with a baby and an active needy toddler to care for, Fung said they felt the additional challenge was worth the benefits, as life get so much easier once the younger child turns 2 (and even easier when they are 4).
“While we had not planned the larger age gap, we are so thankful for that as well. It has meant that our older kids can be a big help with their younger siblings and that we have been able to devote more time to each of the kids in their early years without having too many little ones needing our close attention at the same time,” she said.
Fung also likes that each of the kids has a playmate, as well as much younger (or older) siblings with whom they also share a special but different relationship.
“For us, we’ve learned that how your family ends up being spaced will ultimately be a great gift, whether or not it goes according to plan, and that the family you love will always be better than the one you imagined,” she said.
The reality is that all family structures have pros and cons. Learning to adapt to the challenges unique to your own family is part of the journey. What follows are some of the common observations regarding pros and cons of possible spacing.
Having children close in age
- Once you’re past a challenging stage (weaning, potty training), you’re done.
- You can share or reuse your gear (strollers, car seats, crib).
- Your children won’t know or recall life without one another.
- Your kids may play well together sometimes — though sometimes not so much!
- Managing childcare and school needs may be simpler for children of similar ages.
- There are increased risks during pregnancy and delivery to the birth parent and baby with closely spaced pregnancies.
- You may have to invest in duplicate items if your children are very close in age (more strollers, car seats).
- The costs of items like diapers and services like childcare are increased.
- There may be lots of demands on the caregiver(s) when it comes to feeding, sleeping, and behavior challenges for two young children.
Having children far apart in age
- Your older child(ren) may enjoy helping with the new arrival.
- You’ll have time to experience each stage with each child individually.
- You may be more relaxed about the early challenges of parenthood.
- Your older child(ren) is likely to be busy with their own activities, allowing you time with the baby.
- You may not be able to reuse baby gear.
- There may be more sibling jealousy.
- You may feel like you’re starting over with knowledge and experience.
- Your children likely won’t enjoy the same activities, shows, and events.
Child spacing decisions may be a combination of preference and life circumstances. While there isn’t one right option for spacing your children, considering the factors and benefits of different timing can help you plan your future.