How long should you wait between having babies? The ideal gap between pregnancies

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  • A new study suggests that women are not leaving enough time for their bodies to recover between pregnancies.

    The World Health Organization recommends waiting 18 to 24 months between pregnancies, but the study found that many women are still leaving a gap of less than 18 months.

    Lots of parents like the idea of their children being close together in age, but reproductive health researcher Heike Thiel de Bocanegra warns that this can be ‘very problematic’.

    Last year, a study that looked at more than 123,000 mothers in Canada concluded that women should wait 12 to 18 months between pregnancies in order to minimise risks. The researchers found that waiting less than a year between giving birth and getting pregnant again was linked with a higher risk of premature birth, low birth weight and the mother or baby dying.

    pregnant mum and child

    Credit: REX/Shutterstock

    However, the NHS pointed out that serious complications were still rare. Less than five per cent of all pregnancies in the study were affected, and it’s not possible to prove that the complications that did occur were caused by the shorter time between pregnancies.

    They said, ‘the study’s findings may inform general guidance, but it’s not always possible to plan for longer pregnancy intervals. Women who fall pregnant after less than 18 months shouldn’t be too concerned, as the risk to them still remains low.’

    Children who are born more than two years apart tend to do better at reading and maths when they’re older. Researchers think this might be because they get more one-to-one time with their parents. In a study of 3,000 mums and 5,000 pairs of siblings, the sibling pairs with a bigger age gap between them were read to more and didn’t watch as much TV as those with a smaller age gap.

    However, another study found that leaving a gap of five years or more between pregnancies also increased the risk of premature labour and low birth weight.

    The average age gap between first and second babies in the UK is three years and eight months.