Birth Spacing—What’s Best?
In the quest for perfect birth spacing, many parents labor over what they deem the “Goldilocks Plan”: Not too close together. Not too far apart. Just right.
What is the perfect spacing between one child and the next? Experts recommend waiting 18-24 months between pregnancies for two reasons. First, that span gives the mother’s body adequate time to recover fully from the demands it endures throughout pregnancy. Second, waiting at least that long lowers the risk that a subsequent pregnancy will result in miscarriage, placental abruption, anemia, preeclampsia, preterm labor, hysterectomy or postpartum depression. Medical providers give most women the green light outside of those parameters. Still, what constitutes ideal spacing between pregnancies is debatable. And answers from parents are as unique as the individuals who give them.
Birth spacing is a personal decision that varies broadly based on factors such as age, medical history, family history, career goals and financial impact. But even an ideal plan provides no guarantee that life will follow suit. For Wichita native Lindsey Etcheson and her husband, Braden, the perfect plan included two-year spacing between each child. The couple optimistically looked forward to seeing that dream come to fruition after they married in 2007.
“I had it all figured out and knew it would be just great,” Lindsay, a children’s minister and mother of three, recalls. In 2010, the Etcheson family grew to include a healthy baby boy. Shortly after, however, the Etcheson’s birth spacing plan fell by the wayside because of circumstances outside their control. “We lost our second child,” Lindsay explains. “Upon having our next son, we were faced with infertility issues, followed by a high-risk pregnancy. I always used to think a good motto for me was 'plan your work and work your plan' but then I realized there is so much out of your control.”
The Etchesons are not alone in deviating from their initial plan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 30 percent of women do not wait the recommended 18-24 months between pregnancies for a number of reasons. The overwhelming group of these fertile insurgents tend to fit in two primary groups: 1) teen pregnancies between the ages of 15 and19 or 2) white, college-educated women who are married and childbearing in their 30s and hoping to avoid the complications of “advanced maternal age” that loom on the horizon. The remaining 12 percent are what could be deemed the “surprise” group. These parents would tell you they intended to have another child at some point, but found themselves facing that reality sooner than expected.
On the other hand, many other parents face the opposite fertility forecast: an initial pregnancy followed by secondary infertility, health complications or financial constraints that necessitate waiting to become pregnant again.
So, to plan or not to plan? That is the question. Ultimately, the answer lies with you, the parent. Each couple needs to evaluate what will be best for the dynamic of their family, careers and long-term plans. The beautiful result is that there is no right or wrong way to go about it. Your family size and spacing—however big or small, broadly or narrowly spaced it may be—will be just the perfect fit for you. Here’s what local families have to say about what they enjoy most about the unique spacing within their own families.
12-18 Months Apart
My oldest two are only 12 months apart. We basically didn't leave our house because nowhere was worth going that bad. It was nice to be in baby mode already but definitely challenging having a non-walker and a baby in a car seat. Now at 9 and 10 years old, they're still the best of friends and will never remember life without each other. ~ Tiffany Anzalone, Olathe mom of three
“We did not plan on having ours so close together (15 months), but now I love it. It definitely has its own set of challenges, but they are best buds, have a lot of the same interests, can share the same toys, etc. Having two in diapers—one of which was a toddler who didn't want to listen when I was breastfeeding—was not easy, but at their ages now (3-1/2, 5 and 2), it's kinda nice.” ~ Becky Felix, Kansas City, MO, mom of two
2-4 Years Apart
“I had wanted our kiddos at least two years apart and missed it by a day. I wanted the older to have more independence and also wanted time for my body to heal and recoup between pregnancies. They are far enough apart in age that I didn't really feel overwhelmed having two, and they are close enough that they are buddies and play with each other.” ~ Sara Clark, Olathe mom of two
5+ Years Apart
Our [three] kids are four and seven years apart. My youngest started first grade the same day my oldest went off to college. She lectured me the whole way to school about what I was thinking, spacing them so far apart! Luckily, they made up for it as adults. ~ Cathy Beelman, St. Joseph mom of three
Mixed Spacing (Big & Small Age Gaps)
My brother and I are seven years apart, and I said I would never have that much time between my children. Well, never say never! We have as little as one month’s difference in age through adoption and as much as 14 years’ difference between oldest and youngest—and I wouldn't have it any other way. There are great benefits for the whole family when you have much older siblings. They are a tremendous help plus they get a first-hand glimpse of what it's like to take care of little ones. They gain skills that will help them when they have their own children. The younger ones see the older siblings go through different things and maneuver life, and the bond between them is wonderful to see.” ~ Leandra Beauford, St. Joseph mom of four
Freelance writing boy-mom Lauren Greenlee writes and raises her three children from her Olathe home.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.