This weekend, my sweet and spunky son turns two. Two years old!
Given the strange combination of excruciating slowness and incredulous speed with which parenthood passes on a daily—sometimes hourly—basis, I find it difficult to comprehend the notion that my baby is no longer really a baby.
This important milestone in my son’s life is also met with another milestone for me and my husband—the dreaded question about when we will be adding another child to our family.
We’re both casually noncommittal and vague in responding to these inquiries. However, we recognize that it’s only natural for people to be curious about family expansion when one child approaches a certain age. The pervasive presence of Facebook in our everyday lives makes it much easier to speculate about when parents will add to their brood because we are so much more aware of the ages and stages current kids are in.
I have a sister who is two years older than me and one who is three years younger. From my perspective (don’t ask my mom), the spacing is perfect because I have developed great relationships with both of them. I was also able to experience many important moments with them while growing up (like prom, going to state tournaments, and bellyaching about our parents).
However, for my sisters, the five-year age gap has proven to be challenging in many ways; at times, one sister couldn’t relate to the other, and they have constantly battled the perspective of being the older “bossy” one versus the “baby” of the family.
So what’s best?
Every family is different, making it hard to imagine a “standard” for family planning. But here are a few factors to consider when it comes to the space between children.
The CDC reports that the average age of women having their first child increased from 21.4 in 1970 to 25 in 2006; additionally, the number of women ages 35-44 having their first child has been rising steadily since 2000.
I was chatting with a friend who is in her 30s and pregnant with her first child, and she mentioned that she and her husband might consider having a second child soon after the first. No surprise there, considering the onslaught of warnings about infertility and complications from “advanced maternal age.” I’m still hanging on to my 20s, so I haven’t yet begun feeling the pressure to add to my family based on my age. Note that I said yet. But ask me again in a month when I turn 30.
Physical Health (for Mom and Baby)
Everyone wants to have a healthy baby, and it turns out the optimum time to conceive one is 18 to 23 months after a previous birth, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has established a public health goal of reducing the percentage of pregnancies conceived before that timeframe from 35 percent to 29.8 by 2020.
Pregnancies spaced close together could result in an increased risk for placental abruption, placenta previa, autism in second-born children, low birth weight, or preterm birth; the science indicates women’s bodies have not had adequate time to recover from the previous birth.
On the other hand, spacing pregnancies too far apart could result in an increased risk of high blood pressure and preeclampsia, preterm birth, or low birth weight. The rationale is that pregnancy is like a workout for your uterus, so waiting too long to get pregnant again can result in some atrophying.
Raising young kids is really hard; ask any parent. However, having your kids close together means you can concentrate all those sleep-deprived, diaper-laden years into a shorter period. Everyone talks about how quickly the time passes, right? Why not buy your diapers in bulk and hunker down in some sweats to ride out the craziness?
Kids who are close in age may be more likely to have similar interests and engage in similar activities, so you won’t have to worry about being a one-person child entertainer. (On the flip side, having an older kid means you’ll get out of entertaining altogether!) Some parents have reported a smaller age gap results in less sibling rivalry, although some may argue the opposite.
According to a study published in the Journal of Human Resources, children who are at least two years older than their sibling score higher on math and reading tests. Spacing kids apart may also mean you can more efficiently plan for future costs by giving your family brief reprieves (like when one kid starts school and doesn’t require daycare). However, considering the exorbitant cost of raising a kid, the reprieve may go unnoticed.
As is the case with anything involving children, even the best laid plans will never work out. In the end, all you can do is determine what’s right for your family and hope for the best. Now excuse me as I cry into my lunch while looking at newborn pictures of my son, the same one who recited the plot of “The Giving Tree” to me and his father at bedtime a few nights ago.