Confession: Even sounding out the words “baby” and “number” and “two” in one breath right now scares me a little. No. A lot.
But a recent study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that as many as one-third of babies that follow are conceived within 18 months of a previous birth. The chances are higher if a woman is between the ages of 15 to 19 or older than 30, or if she was married when the previous child was conceived. And in many cases, the subsequent pregnancy is intended.
From a health perspective, a pregnancy interval of 18 months or less is considered short, and in some cases, can be risky. Short intervals between pregnancies increase the chances of preeclampsia, premature births, and a lower birth weight for the baby.
Although the national initiative Healthy People 2020 calls for a 10 percent reduction in short pregnancy intervals, implementing that goal is challenging. Many couples are waiting until they’re older to start families, so those looking to have multiple children have a shorter window to conceive. Some couples want children close in age. For those who weren’t looking to conceive, perhaps individual circumstances (breastfeeding, etc.) may have changed the birth control options available.
According to Dr. Daniela Carusi, director of surgical obstetrics at Brigham and Women's Hospital, shorter pregnancy intervals are commonly seen among couples who have previously struggled with infertility. Many feel heightened pressure to conceive sooner since their first pregnancy may have taken longer than expected, she said.
Indeed, whatever the reason, it’s happening. Whether you’re within that 18-month window, or even further out, many preconception rules still apply. So before you decide to pull the trigger on baby #2 here are some questions to consider:
- Are you consistently taking prenatal vitamins? Don’t jump off the nutrition bandwagon just because baby #1 turned out healthy.
- Is your diet in check? Don’t wait until pregnancy to cut out certain foods, limit caffeine, quit smoking, and quit drinking alcohol.
- Have you visited your doctor lately? Remember the first time around when you scheduled your life around doctor’s appointment? Those sessions were all about baby #1. The next go is a whole new ball game, so it’s time to reconnect or find someone new.
- Do you know your health numbers? I mean, your body mass index, your weight, your blood pressure. Perhaps you’ve shunned the scale since stepping on it for the first time post-baby, but it’s time to revisit. Being either overweight or underweight can affect your chances of conceiving and maintaining a healthy pregnancy the next time around. It’s likely your doctor will give you the skinny on where you stand.
- Have you considered your risks? If you considering conceiving within the first 18 months after having a baby, it’s worth weighing the health risks of a shorter pregnancy interval. A simple conversation with your doctor can help sort it out. He or she will take into account your previous pregnancy, your current health status, and what risks, if any, you should look out for. From a medical perspective, your doctor will help you make the pros and cons list, but ultimately, it’s up to you to decide.
- Are you exhausted? Many women suffer from significant fatigue during the first trimester. If you're already tired from baby number one, it may be worth reevaluating whether you can handle the added exhaustion, said Carusi. Sure, there's the usual tiredness that comes with caring for an infant. But extreme fatigue can lead to poor nutrition and other adverse outcomes. In fact, studies have shown higher rates of depression among women who have short intervals between pregnancies, and lack of sleep can contribute to the risk for depression, she said.
The author is solely responsible for the content.