Anyone having baby fever these days? Or thinking that you should give your toddler a sibling sooner than later? Many women believe that they should have all their children one after the other for various reasons such as getting through the baby phase faster or making sure their kids become close friends. Well, let us weigh the pros and cons of having our children closer in age or otherwise.
Interpregnancy intervals – or birth spacing – is the act of deliberately waiting for a set time before trying to conceive the next child.
When considering having another baby, mothers should primarily consult their health care provider to choose an approach to family planning and birth spacing that meets personal needs and beliefs. The scientific evidence behind birth spacing helps mothers consider if their current state of physical and mental health is optimal for conceiving another child.
Family planning is usually done when the family is considering factors related to finances, household affairs, and maternal health. For example, parents may sense that their first or present children are still in need of constant care and attention and would, therefore, foreseeably make the presence of an additional child more difficult. Moreover, the mother should be in a stable mental space and ready to conceive; she should feel reassured by her partner and support system that they are ready to help her with the physical and emotional challenges of having another baby.
Risks of Spacing Pregnancies Too Close Together
According to a study of births in the U.S. in 2016, 29% of single non-first births preceded by an interpregnancy interval of less than 18 months. Generally, since the recent ongoing collection of national data on multiple pregnancies per woman from 2003 onward, short intervals remain common, accounting for approximately 30% of all interpregnancy intervals.
According to the March of Dimes, an organization focused on education and advocacy for family planning, pregnancies that begin less than 18 months after the last birth are associated with delayed prenatal care and adverse birth outcomes, which include preterm birth, neonatal morbidity, and low birthweight. These ongoing health outcomes are also associated with developmental delay, asthma, and vision and hearing loss.
According to the Mayo Clinic, starting a pregnancy within 6 months of a live birth is associated with an increased risk of:
- Premature birth – a baby born several weeks or months before the ideal window of childbirth, which is usually between 37 - 40 weeks
- The placenta partially or completely peeling away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery (placental abruption) – the placenta is the “food tube” for the baby
- Low birth weight
- Congenital disorders – genetically inherited disorders
- Schizophrenia - a mental disorder characterized by disruptions in thought processes, perceptions, emotional responsiveness, and social interactions.
- Maternal anemia – when the mother has extremely low levels of iron in her blood
- An increased risk of autism in second-born children (he risk is highest for pregnancies spaced less than 12 months apart).
In addition to these risks, closely spaced pregnancies may not give the mother enough time to recover from her previous pregnancy. This includes not having all her organs coming back into their rightful places. Depleted stores of nutrients for the mother due to the pregnancy and breastfeeding, particularly folate, can also be an issue. The mother’s nutrients stores must be fully replenished so that the next baby will have enough to grow healthy in the womb. Inflammation of the mother’s genital tract after pregnancy may also play a role in affecting the next baby’s health.
Risks Associated with Spacing Pregnancies Too Far Apart
In the same Mayo Clinic research cited above, there is an increased risk of pre-eclampsia in mothers with no history of the condition. Women with pre-eclampsia experience high blood pressure, protein in their urine, swelling, headaches and blurred vision 20 weeks into their pregnancy.
Best Interval between Pregnancies
Research suggests waiting 18-24 months – 1.5-2 years – but less than 5 years after a live birth before conceiving your next child. For those mothers who would like their children to be close in age, they can optimally start trying to conceive 18 months after their last child.
If the mother has had a miscarriage, this recommendation does not apply to her. The mother must get herself checked by her healthcare provider to see if she is mentally and physically ready for the next conception.
Here are some benefits for spacing pregnancies:
- The mother will have time to focus on the current baby or toddler at the time, which brings lifelong mental and emotional benefits to the child.
- The next baby will have an optimal amount of nutrients provided by a mother who is fully replenished of them.
- The mother’s body has time for all her organs to go back into place.
- The mother will have time to focus on herself by eating healthy, exercising, and socializing, which is great for her overall well-being – diminishing the possibility of postpartum depression.
- The mother can avoid having or healing from Diastasis Recti – spacing between the abdominal muscles – that can cause issues in doing everyday tasks, chronic pain in various parts of the body, and leaving a bulge below the belly button.
- The mother’s breast milk has time to be fully replenished with the necessary nutrients for the next child, and the interval has given the mother time to relax from the busy routine of breastfeeding, especially if done exclusively.
- The planning component puts the mother at ease mentally and emotionally because she is ready for the next addition and can have the resources ready for the child.
- It puts the father, siblings, and the family support system at ease because it was a matter discussed among them so that they can also be ready for the new addition.
Whenever you choose to take a break before having your next child, make sure to choose a contraceptive method that is safe for your body as well as Islamically permissible. The basic rule is that any contraception that permanently stops any function in your body from having future children is not allowed, unless there is a dire health issue for the mother that she must do this. These methods can include tying your fallopian tubes, hysterectomy (surgically removing the uterus), hormonal IUDs (intrauterine device), and more.
Contraceptive methods that are temporary that can be easily removed if a woman decides to have her next baby include:
- Condoms (a barrier method of birth control that is a latex sheath that is worn by the man during intercourse to prevent sperm from entering the vagina or to prevent sexually transmitted disease)
- Oral birth control pills (these pills are taken daily and can alter your estrogen significantly; check with your doctor if this method is right for your unique hormonal makeup)
- Contraceptive injection (temporary)
- Diaphragm (a barrier method of birth control that is a cap-like device that inserted into the vagina prior to intercourse to physically prevent sperm from entering the cervix)
- Contraceptive patch (a patch that sticks to your skin and releases hormones that stop conception from happening)
- Coitus interruptus (avoiding the release of sperm going inside the woman’s body physically during intercourse)
- Calendar rhythm method (tracking when your period happens and avoiding intercourse during the fertile window)
- Copper IUD (a small copper coil that is placed inside your uterus by your gynecologist or doctor and physically stops the eggs from reaching the sperm from your fallopian tubes).
It is encouraged to check the rulings regarding contraception in Islam before one takes on any of these methods.
A Note about Unplanned Pregnancies
We can surely plan, but we know that Allah alum, Allah is the best of planners. A mother may have already conceived a child and be nervous about how her situation – whether financial, physical, or emotional – will pan out after the birth. Related to the unplanned pregnancy or concerns that develop as the pregnancy progresses, she should remember that Allah will always provide for them. Allah mentions in the Quran:
“... kill not your children because of poverty. We provide sustenance for you and for them.”
(Surah Al-An’am, 6:151)
Terminating a pregnancy because one fears that she will be unable to financially support another child is not permitted Islamically. Having a child is a blessing from Allah and should be accepted with joy and gratitude. Being careful as to when to conceive, however, it is permissible. This ruling is meant for only after conception.
Overall, the decision of how many children one wants and how far apart they should be, is a decision between the married partners and a healthcare provider who have a good picture of what they can handle. Those factors can include how much attention their current child(ren) need, what phase of life the mother is in (working, studying, advanced maternal age – above 35), the overall health of the mother and any history she may have had in her previous pregnancies, and the strength of the support system the family currently has.
Sumayya Khan is a homeschooling mother of two and a teacher by profession. She has worked with several Islamic schools and organizations in the last 10 years. She is currently studying the Qur’an through Al-Huda Institute. In her free time, she loves to spend time with her family and friends, play sports, enjoy nature, and read books. She currently resides with her family in Toronto, Canada.