Is there a “perfect” age gap?
IT’S A DISCUSSION with no end – how big should the gap between your children be? Every parent has their own opinion, and what works for one family might not suit another. Sometimes, it’s not even within your control – it just happens! However, there are some medically proven facts to take into consideration when you’re planning your next pregnancy.
WHEN IS TOO SOON?
Pregnancy takes its toll on your body, and it’s wise to give yourself a break to recover between pregnancies to allow you to recover from the physical stress of the pregnancy and replenish
your stores of essential nutrients, like iron and folate. In fact, studies have shown that there’s an increased risk of prematurity and low birth weight in babies conceived within six months of a birth. “Research has shown there’s a marked benefit in spacing your children at least one year apart. This reduces your risk of hypertensive complications or foetal growth restriction in the next pregnancy,” explains Dr Jana Rossouw, a gynaecologist at Tygerberg Hospital. “The shortest recommended interval is 12 months before falling pregnant again, but not longer than five years, after which risks increase again,” she advises. “Take care of your body after pregnancy and aim to return to your normal body weight before embarking on another pregnancy. Healthy lifestyle goes a long way,” advises Dr Rossouw. If you have hypertension, diabetes or any other chronic condition, “all medical conditions should be optimally controlled and medication adjusted should some of them be harmful to a potential pregnancy,” she recommends.
Just as you prepared yourself for your first pregnancy by eating well, cutting back on undesirable practices such as excessive drinking or smoking and taking all the recommended supplements, the same is true of your second pregnancy. “Three months before contraception is stopped, folic acid supplementation should be taken to decrease the chances of foetal abnormalities. Vaccinations (especially rubella) and immunity should be checked with your general practitioner in order to be up to date with your schedule to decrease the risks of these infections in pregnancy,” advises Dr Rossouw.
THE MORE THE MERRIER?
Psychologically and financially it’s also important to feel ready for the new challenge of a second child as a family before planning to stop contraception. Don’t imagine that it’ll be the same as the arrival of your first child, though, because it won’t. A second child changes the entire dynamic of the family. Think about how your first child will react to having to share their parents’ love, time and attention with a new child. Spacing your children further apart gives your firstborn more time to receive your undivided attention – and for you to enjoy them as an individual. However, children who are very widely spaced might grow up with less in common than children who are closer in age.
THINK ABOUT THE MONEY, HONEY
Although a closer age gap might seem like a good idea because you get the hard work of parenting young children out of the way faster, consider the costs involved. If your first child isn’t yet sleeping in a “big bed”, or is still using his stroller, you’ll need to factor in the costs of a second cot, pram and accessories like cot bedding. You’ll also be paying double for nappies if your oldest isn’t yet toilet trained. It’s not just the short-term costs to consider, either. What are your plans for schooling? If a private school education is a priority for you, will you be able to afford to put two children through private education? And importantly, if you’re back at work, will you continue to work full-time or will you look for part-time work, or stop working altogether? Many women find it much harder to juggle the demands of full-time work with two or more children – consider how this might affect your household income.
AND WHAT ABOUT…
Other things to consider are whether your child is settled into a good routine (including a good sleeping routine), and whether you have a good childcare system in place. If a family member is responsible for looking after your first child (a granny, or another family member), are they ready and equipped to take care of more than one child? Don’t assume – it’s important to include them in this conversation.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY AFTER PREGNANCY AND AIM TO RETURN TO YOUR NORMAL BODY WEIGHT BEFORE EMBARKING ON ANOTHER PREGNANCY