Birth/pregnancy spacing

What is birth spacing or pregnancy spacing?

Pregnancy spacing is an essential part of family planning. The time between giving birth and getting pregnant again is called birth spacing, or pregnancy spacing.

This page has information about the importance of pregnancy spacing and will help you understand the factors you should consider before you conceive again. 

Following a pregnancy, a woman's body needs to rest. Pregnancy spacing is an essential part of family planning. 

Why is family planning important?

Being parents already, family planning takes on new meaning. Having another child can change your family's lives. Some questions you may want to think about:

  • Are you ready to take care of a newborn again?
  • How will your other child/children react to sharing your attention with a new baby?

While you and your partner might have preferences about how close in age you'd like your children to be, some research shows that how you space your pregnancies can affect the mother and baby’s health and development?  

Research shows that getting pregnant less than 12 months after a birth is associated with health risks for women of all ages. 

For most women, its best to wait at least 18 months between giving birth & getting pregnant again. 

This gives your body time to fully recover from your last pregnancy before it’s ready for your next.

What are the risks of spacing pregnancies close together? 

Research suggests beginning a pregnancy within 6 months of a previous birth, increases the risk for certain health problems for the mother and baby. 

These include the risk of: 

  • Premature birth.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Stillbirth.
  • Placenta partially or completely peeling away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery (placental abruption).
  • Congenital disorders.
  • Mental health disorders.
  • Maternal anaemia (anaemia for mother).

Closely spaced pregnancies might not give a mother enough time to recover from pregnancy before moving on to the next pregnancy. For example, pregnancy and breastfeeding can deplete your stores of nutrients, particularly folate. If you become pregnant before replacing those stores, it could affect you or your baby's health.  
Inflammation of the genital tract that develops during pregnancy and doesn't completely heal before the next pregnancy could also play a role.

What are the risks of spacing pregnancies far apart?

Some research also suggests that long intervals between pregnancies pose concerns for mothers and babies, such as an increased risk of pre-eclampsia in people with no history of the condition.

It's not clear why long pregnancy intervals might cause health problems. It's possible that pregnancy improves uterine capacity to promote foetal growth and support, but that over time these beneficial physiological changes disappear.

What’s the best interval between pregnancies?

To reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and other health problems, research suggests waiting 18 to 24 months, but less than five years after a live birth before attempting your next pregnancy. 

Balancing concerns about infertility, people older than 35 might consider waiting 12 months before becoming pregnant again. Choosing when to have another baby is a personal decision. When planning your next pregnancy, you and your partner might consider various factors in addition to the health risks and benefits. Until you decide about when to have another child, using a reliable method of contraception. 

If you have previously had a caesarean section, births that occurs 18 months or less apart, you have a higher risk of uterine rupture (this is an emergency, when the scar on the uterus opens prior to delivery). 

Health professionals will always support you in your choice, which will be about what is right for you and your pregnancy.

What else do I need to know about pregnancy spacing?

There is no perfect time to have another baby. Even with careful planning, you can't always control when conception happens. 

Discussing reliable contraception options until you are ready to conceive and understanding the possible risks associated with the timing of your pregnancies can help you make an informed decision about when to grow your family.

© North Bristol NHS Trust. This edition published March 2024. Review due March 2027. NBT003676.