How long should you REALLY wait between pregnancies? Our Fertility Expert weighs in...
‘So when are you thinking of having another one?’
This is a rather rude question that many a new Mum has been asked, often when their baby was barely a week old and they haven’t even got their head around breast-feeding yet.
Nosy friends and family aside, it does raise an interesting topic: is there a minimum amount of time you should allow for your own recovery after a baby, or should you ‘just go for it’ as soon as you feel ready to conceive again?
Few women realise that conceiving again within a short time of giving birth can result in physiological implications for both mum and baby.
According to scientific research, there can be an increased risk of pre-term labour if a woman conceives within 12 months of her previous pregnancy. A pre-term birth is categorised as delivery prior to 37 weeks gestation and does carry an increased risk of health complications. The neonatal intensive care units in Ireland are very well equipped to deal with premature deliveries, but spacing out your pregnancies is a very simple way to minimise the risk of your baby being born early and experiencing potential health symptoms such as under-developed lungs, immune issues, digestive or skin problems.
So how long should I wait?
It’s hard to give a definitive answer as every woman has a unique obstetric history. It’s important to bear in mind how your previous pregnancy and labour went, whether there were any complications during labour or in the post natal period, as well as your current health.
The generally accepted advice is that women should leave a minimum of 18 months between pregnancies but this can be difficult advice to follow if you are concerned about your age and would prefer to try to conceive again as soon as possible.
Based on women I have dealt with in my clinical practice, I think it's important to ask yourself if you feel physically ready for another pregnancy. If it took you a long time to conceive your first, it is understandable that you would be keen to start trying again, sooner rather than later, but if you are struggling with a baby that has colic, surviving on little sleep and feel like you have no energy, that isn’t a great place to start your next pregnancy from.
While it is true that female egg quality is known to decline with age, there will only be minimal difference to your eggs if you wait an extra few months to try to conceive again, yet it could make a vast difference to your experience of that pregnancy, as you will be in better physical shape to cope with the demands of growing another infant and less likely to experience complications.
I recall consulting with a lady who had a ‘three year plan’ and was adamant that she wanted to conceive again, even though her firstborn was only four months old and she was clearly still recovering from the birth. She was visibly fatigued with some secondary health issues yet blinded by the fact that she would shortly be turning 37. For her, ‘time was of the essence’.
Against my advice, she went ahead and started trying and did manage to conceive within two months. Sadly, the pregnancy ended in an early miscarriage, which she found very upsetting as she had never experienced one before, so she thought this meant her fertility was already on the decline and that she wouldn’t be able to carry a healthy pregnancy again.
During her follow-up consultation I went through all of her health symptoms and discussed how she was coping since having her firstborn. We decided on a timeline for her recovery, agreeing that until her other health symptoms had substantially improved, she would hold off on trying to conceive. Thankfully, the outcome was much better the second time around. She conceived easily and went on to give birth to a healthy, full-term, baby boy.
Jessica Bourke is a Natural Fertility Specialist who deals with all aspects of reproductive health. She's a regular contributor to Irish media and co-author of the 'Guilt Free Gourmet' cook-book. As a Mum of two, Jessica understands the challenges of pregnancy and parenting. For more, visit jessicabourke.com.