Having another baby may be the last thing on your mind now that you’re a mum. But you could become fertile again before you know it.
There’s no perfect time to have another baby. And, even with careful planning, you can’t always control when conception happens.
However, understanding the risks and benefits associated with timing your pregnancies too close together or too far apart can help you make an informed decision about when to grow your family.
Whether you’re thinking about getting pregnant for the first time or you already have children, it’s important to think about family planning and your reproductive goals. Knowing whether you do or don’t want to have children in the next few years can help you and your partner choose appropriate contraception – such as birth control pills, contraceptive injections or implants, or an intrauterine device (IUD). Family planning can also help you determine when you might begin preconception planning, which is sometimes recommended up to a year in advance of getting pregnant.
After your first child is born, family planning takes on new meaning. Having another child will change your family’s lives. Are you and your partner ready to take care of a newborn again? How will your other child or children react to sharing your attention with a new baby? It’s also important to consider the timing of your pregnancies. While you and your partner might have preferences about how close in age you’d like your children to be, some studies show that spacing pregnancies too close together or too far apart can pose health risks for both mother and baby.
What’s the best interval between pregnancies?
To reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and other health problems, limited research suggests waiting at least 18 to 24 months but no more than five years after a live birth before attempting your next pregnancy. However, further research is needed to determine whether the effects of birth spacing on maternal and fetal health differ between developed and developing nations.
Still, choosing when to have another baby is a personal decision. When planning your next pregnancy, you and your partner might consider various factors in addition to the health risks and benefits, including your health, age, fertility, relationship, how many children you have, how many children you hope to have, access to health care, child-rearing support, and social and economic circumstances.
Until you make a decision about when to have another child, be sure to use a reliable method of birth control even if you’re breast-feeding. Once you feel ready to get pregnant again, ask your health care provider for guidance.
How soon can I have sex again?
You can have sex as soon as you and your partner feel ready to. Some people find it takes a while to feel ready, both physically and emotionally. If you have had stitches, then these are usually dissolvable so will not need removing. If you are having any discomfort from these then you should see your doctor or midwife. Some women find they need to use some vaginal lubricant if they feel drier than normal.
What are the risks of spacing pregnancies too close together?
Limited research suggests that a pregnancy within 12 months of giving birth is associated with an increased risk of:
- The placenta partially or completely peeling away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery (placental abruption).
- The placenta attaching to the lower part of the uterine wall, partially or totally covering the cervix (placenta previa), in women who previously had a C-section.
A pregnancy within 18 months of giving birth is associated with an increased risk of:
- Low birth weight.
- Small size for gestational age.
- Preterm birth.
- Uterine rupture in women who attempt vaginal birth after a C-section (VBAC).
Some experts believe that closely spaced pregnancies don’t give a mother enough time to recover from the physical stress of one pregnancy before moving on to the next. For example, pregnancy and breast-feeding can deplete your stores of essential nutrients, such as iron and folate. If you become pregnant before replacing those stores, it could affect your health or your baby’s health.
What are the risks of spacing pregnancies too far apart?
Research suggests that long intervals between pregnancies also pose concerns for mothers and babies. A pregnancy five years or more after giving birth is associated with an increased risk of:
- High blood pressure and excess protein in your urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy (pre-eclampsia).
- Slow or difficult labour or delivery (dystocia).
- Pre-term birth.
- Low birth weight.
- Small size for gestational age.
It’s not clear why long pregnancy intervals are linked to health problems for mothers and babies. Some experts believe that pregnancy improves uterine capacity to promote fetal growth and support, but that over time these beneficial physiological changes disappear. It’s also possible that maternal age or unmeasured factors, such as maternal illnesses, may play a role.
What are the different methods of contraception?
When you choose a method of contraception you need to think about:
- How effective it is.
- Possible risks and side-effects.
- Plans for future pregnancies.
- Personal preference.
- If you have a medical condition, or take medicines that interact with the method.
Contraceptives can be divided into short-acting, long-acting and permanent; unless you are planning to have another baby in the next year or two, then you should consider using a short-acting contraceptive.
Condoms and diaphragms are safe, whether or not you’re breastfeeding. If you used a diaphragm before having a baby, this might need to be refitted. An IUD (intra-uterine device) is another possibility. See your doctor if you’re interested in this. Choose a contraceptive method as soon as you decide not to breastfeed. In this case, you have a lot of choice, including the combined pill or an implant such as Implanon.
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