Family planning: How much time should you plan for pregnancy spacing?

Little girl lying on her mother's pregnant belly

After giving birth, many people aren’t eager to go through the process all over again, but others look forward to having their next baby as soon as possible.

If you’re in the latter camp, it’s important to know that allowing enough time between delivery and conception of the next baby is vital to ensuring that the birthing parent and baby both remain healthy.

How soon can you get pregnant again after giving birth?

At a minimum, there should be at least six months between delivery and conception, also known as the interpregnancy interval.

It’s important to note, though, that this relates to timing between a delivery and conception – not between an early miscarriage and conception. If you’ve had a first trimester miscarriage, there doesn’t seem to be an advantage to waiting to conceive again.

Why it’s important to space out pregnancies

Research tells us that pregnancies conceived before 6 months after a delivery are associated with an increased risk of pre-term delivery and low birth weight. Many experts believe the ideal timing between pregnancies is 18 to 24 months.

In those who have had C-sections and are considering a trial of labor after cesarean – also called a vaginal birth after cesarean – the risk of uterine rupture in labor is higher if there isn’t enough time between delivery and conception. Uterine rupture is a rare but serious condition in which the uterus tears, so it’s really best to wait 18 months between delivery and conception if you’ve had a prior cesarean section and you’re planning a vaginal delivery.

It can be difficult to wait, especially when it may have taken a long time to conceive the previous pregnancy. Recognizing that some people who are older or have had infertility in the past may be worried about their ability to conceive if they wait, obstetricians should have a discussion in that case regarding the relative risk and benefits of delaying pregnancy.

Can pregnancies be spaced too far apart?

With five or more years between a prior delivery and conception, there are some increased risks, too. That sweet spot of timing is between about 18 months and five years after the prior delivery.

Research shows us that people who conceive pregnancies more than five years after their previous delivery had an increased risk of pre-eclampsia, labor that progresses abnormally slowly, cephalopelvic disproportion (in which the baby’s head or body is too large to fit through the pelvis) and other difficulties in labor.

The bottom line

While it’s one of the most important factors, safe spacing of pregnancies is just one of many aspects to consider when timing a pregnancy.

For example, the World Health Organization recommends two years of breastfeeding, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least a baby’s first year of life, with continued breastfeeding having benefits for the baby. And breastfeeding while pregnant is safe, but it presents its own challenges.

Assessing your family’s social, emotional and financial resources is critical, too.

If you’re preparing to conceive, you should take a folic acid supplement for three months prior to conception.

Folic acid is so important for a growing fetus that many health care providers even recommend that all women of childbearing age take a daily supplement that contains folic acid.

As with many health decisions, it’s best to talk with your health care provider about your individual health conditions when you’re ready to get pregnant again.

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