Your baby may only be six months old, but perhaps you’ve started thinking about adding another member to your family. Maybe you come from a big family and want to have your children close together, or perhaps you’re already yearning for the newborn days all over again.
Or maybe you're the opposite - you want two or more children, and already have one, but can't face the idea of going through it all again right now. Will it be okay to wait to expand your brood?
Australian women typically have two children, so the ideal age gap between first and second-born children is a common question. Looking for a simple answer, however, is a tricky task, as Jodie Benveniste, psychologist and director of Parent Wellbeing, explains: “It differs for every family, and it depends upon when you feel physically and emotionally ready.”
Age, fertility and regaining your health
In Australia, women who become mothers typically do so between the ages of 25 and 34 years; in 2010, the average age of the first-time mum was 28. Given that age and fertility are inversely related, and that after 35 a woman’s fertility rate declines significantly, this may lead to older women planning a second pregnancy relatively quickly.
No matter what your age, it's a good idea to allow time for your body to recover sufficiently from pregnancy and labour. Dr Heather Rowe, a senior researcher at Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, says two years between children is a good interval.
“This gap allows the woman’s body to recover from the birth, regain iron and calcium stores and pre-pregnancy weight, as well as continue breastfeeding into the child’s second year if desired,” she says.
Lisa, a mum of two, has only a 12-month gap between her first and second-born children. She says she and her partner to have children close together.
“I was turning 39 and we decided that we wanted two children sooner rather than later,” she says. But the small gap wasn't easy - six weeks into the pregnancy, she suffered from pelvic girdle pain. This occurs around the joints of the pelvis during and after pregnancy, and although it hasn't been proven that it is linked to having children close together in age, Lisa feels it was a contributing factor.
“It was excruciating. I hadn’t toned up my stomach so none of that core area was stable. I know it wasn’t physically great on my body to have fallen pregnant so soon.”
Having a second child will affect your financial situation, and may mean another break from work. By having a larger gap you can spread the costs over a number of years.
Sarah, a mother of two, had her second baby three and a half years after her first, and says the gap was primarily a financial decision for her family.
“We wanted to get back to a comfortable position with our finances and knock off a bit of the mortgage before adding another member to the family,” she says.
“In our situation, the bigger spacing has been fantastic. It gave us time to work on our careers and allowed us to ease into family life nicely.”
Desired age gap
With any gap you consider between babies, each comes with its own pros and cons. Adding another baby to the family at any stage changes the family dynamics and adds further responsibilities.
“People feel emotionally and physically ready to take this on at different times. It may depend on the age of the parents, how much support they have, and their experience of raising their first-born,” explains Benveniste.
The case for shorter gaps
One of the benefits of having babies quickly means your children grow up close in age. “This can make siblings feel more connected and close, and for parents, it means you get through the early years faster overall,” Benveniste says.
However, having children in close succession can mean harder work in the early years. “The early years are intense and with two or more in a row, the intensity can multiply,” she adds.
Lisa’s choice was partly based on wanting to move through the baby phase faster. “In our naivety, we thought it would be better to have that intensive time in the one hit rather than staggering it out,” she says.
However, she found it a big adjustment having babies so close. “It was stressful early on and the days were long. No sleeps matched up and the feeds took forever.”
Lisa says that while it’s been physically hard, emotionally it has been harder, admitting, “There’s a lot of guilt. I am either ignoring the baby, or ignoring my toddler.”
In the early days she found this conflict traumatic, but as her baby nears six months, Lisa feels things are getting easier and she is happy they will grow up so close together.
The case for longer gaps
One of the benefits of a longer gap is that you’re likely to have more energy and time to devote to each child. An older child can help out with caring for their younger sibling and they often have a better understanding of the changes that are going on when a new baby joins the family.
Sarah, with a gap of almost four years, says the benefits of the bigger time lapse have been great. “In our situation, the bigger spacing has been fantastic. It allowed us to ease into family life nicely.” She adds that her eldest child has been a great help to her younger sibling, saying, “She kept him entertained and that was a big bonus.”
Having a baby at any time is often an emotional rather than a rational decision, as Benveniste points out: “Even if you consider emotional, physical, financial and practical factors rationally, in the end many go with their heart.”
With so many factors that can influence your decision, ultimately it comes down to one simple question. What does your heart say? Do you feel ready? Does your partner? It’s an intensely personal decision, and isn’t something we can always control.
“There are many cases of women falling pregnant the first month their period returns,” Benveniste says. Indeed, Peaches Geldof, Jessica Simpson and Lily Allen made headlines after falling pregnant six, seven and eight months, respectively, after having their first babies. But in spite of the surprise second babies, each seems happy with the way their families have developed. As Benveniste points out, sometimes these things aren’t properly-made decisions at all.
“Everyone manages pregnancies differently, and there is probably also something to be said for divine timing!”