Ask the Expert: What is the ideal length of time between pregnancies?
Q: MY FIRST baby is six months old and I'd like to get pregnant again soon, as I'm 36. Have I left enough time since I gave birth to try for another baby?
Epidemiologist Dr Laura Schummers, of the University of British Columbia in Canada, has just led a study into what's known as pregnancy spacing. She says: "Around 18 months, or at least between 12 and 24 months, seems to be the ideal length of time between giving birth and getting pregnant again, including for women older than 35.
"Getting pregnant less than 12 months after a live birth is associated with risks to both mother and infant. In my team's recent study of risks associated with pregnancy spacing among approximately 150,000 pregnancies in Canada, we found closely spaced pregnancies had risks to the mother of rare, but severe and life-threatening conditions for women over the age of 35, but not those aged 20-34.
"On the other hand, we found risks to the infant (of stillbirth, infant death, or being born very small or very early) for all women, but that risks were greatest for women between the ages of 20-34. Pregnancy intervals of 12-24 months had risks generally similar to 18-month intervals, which may be reassuring for women, as this optimal window is a bit shorter than previous recommendations (either 18-24 months or 18 months to five years).
"Whether the elevated risks are due to inadequate recovery time between pregnancies or to factors associated with unplanned pregnancies, our study indicates that waiting 12-24 months from delivery to conception minimises health risks. This information may be particularly important for women 35 and older, as these women tend to more closely space their pregnancies, and often do so intentionally.
"Based on this research, we would advise waiting until your baby is between 12 and 24 months old before conceiving again. Of course, family planning is a complex and multifactorial decision, including health, career, economic and social considerations. Nevertheless, we hope this information may be useful to women as they make family-planning decisions related to the timing and spacing of pregnancies, in collaboration with their doctor or midwife."