When’s the best time for your next baby?

How long should you leave between the birth of your first and second baby? Or should you even stop at one? There’s probably no ‘right time’, but here’s what the experts say and how four mums see it.

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The experts’ view*According to a University of California study, the ideal gap between babies is between 24 and 35 months.
*The British Medical Journal says pregnancy within six months of birth carries a 40% higher risk of complications.
*According to the New England Journal of Medicine, babies conceived more than 10 years after their closest sibling face double the risk of pre-term birth.
*On average, medical studies have concluded the safest gap between pregnancies is 18-24 months.

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The midwife’s viewJane Fallon is a community midwife based in Buckinghamshire. She says, ‘When deciding on a gap between pregnancies, think about the physical, emotional and practical side of things. If you had a caesarean, it’s usually best to wait at least a year before you have another baby.’

The mums’ viewAge gap: 18 months

‘Four kids under 4? It’s easy!’

Philippa Bennett, 35, opted for an 18-month gap between her first two babies but ended up with Harry, 4, twins Jemima and Max, 2, and Toby, 9 months.

‘I love children and always wanted a busy house, full of fun. I also planned to return to my job as a divisional director for an electronics company, so it made sense to have a small age gap between my first two children and take a career break for a few years.

‘I only had one period in between Harry’s birth and conceiving again and I was still breastfeeding. But I was so keen to have another baby, it didn’t worry me.

‘I found out at a scan eight weeks into the pregnancy that I was having twins. I was gob-smacked. I didn’t know how we’d manage financially. If I went back to work before three children were at school, my entire salary would go on childcare. I knew then that I’d have to give up work indefinitely.

‘As the pregnancy progressed, physical activity, particularly picking Harry up and getting him into the car, became difficult.

‘When the twins were born, changing three sets of nappies could take up half the day so I only changed the twins when they really needed it. I soon realised that I had to get help, so we got a student on a childcare course, which was a godsend.

‘People thought that having kids so close in age was a nightmare – but the children all enjoyed the same entertainment, so it was easy to keep them happy. I’m very organized too – I even did some voluntary work with the National Childbirth Trust at the same time. Our fourth child, Toby, was born nine months ago. Although my husband, Adam, has reservations about having more, I’d love five.’

Age gap: 10 years

‘It’s like having two only children.’

Denise Ives, 42, from Woking, is a full-time mum. Her two children, Stephen, 12, and William, 2, were born 10 years and one day apart.

‘The first time I got pregnant – with Stephen – I was 29. I’d been trying for just over two years and was delighted. But when he was 3, my husband and I split up. I met my new partner, Darren, soon after. He’s 13 years younger than me, and he told me he didn’t want children. I’d have been happy to have more, but I already had Stephen, so it was okay.

‘Seven years later, I became pregnant when I was on the Pill. Darren was overjoyed. He’d already changed his mind about wanting to become a dad, but he didn’t say anything because he was concerned about the anxiety often associated with ‘trying’.

‘I enjoyed my second pregnancy, although the various tests I had were scary, and I was more tired. Stephen was so excited about the new baby and even helped us choose a name. He carried the scan picture everywhere and told us he wanted a baby brother. I’m so grateful for the gap because Stephen doesn’t need my constant attention and can amuse himself if I’m tied up.

‘I think the 10-year gap is perfect. It’s like having two only children. We’re trying for another baby now and obviously it will be a smaller gap, but that’s due to my age. If I wasn’t over 40, I’d go for a 10-year gap again!’

Age gap: 4 years

‘Lucy’s like a mini-nanny to her sister!’

George Bevan, 33, from Manchester, is a fitness instructor and mum to Lucy, 4, and Emily, 7 months.

‘My husband, John, was ready to have another child before I was. I wanted to wait until my body had got back into shape, not least because of my job. Being fit when the pregnancy started was a real boost, and I’m sure it helped me have a natural birth after a caesarean the first time around.

‘We “sold” the idea of a new baby to Lucy by telling her that she could help us look after it, but we soon realised enthusiastic four-year-olds and newborn babies don’t really mix. Emily was born at the start of the summer holidays, so Lucy was stuck indoors. But those first fraught weeks soon passed.

‘Lucy hasn’t been at all jealous. Obviously, she’s out of nappies so that makes life easier. I’m able to work a few evenings a week, too, which might not have been possible if we’d had two small children to look after.

‘So far, the age gap is working out well. Lucy’s at school now so while Emily is napping, I can sleep, too. Lucy adores her baby sister and loves to help dress, change and feed her. In fact, I sometimes feel like I have a live-in nanny!’

Only child

‘Adam is lucky because he has my undivided attention.’

Nicky Parker, 38, from Basingstoke, is a freelance journalist. After having Adam, now 4½, she decided not to have any more children.

‘When Adam was born, I was in my 30s, so I’d left things quite late as it was. Adam has never had to compete with any other children for my affection, and I have plenty of time to read and talk to him. Plus, he has my undivided attention.

‘Having one child means that when my husband, Garry, and I have any extra money, we can spend it on him. We also get to go out more often, because babysitters are often more willing to help out when there’s just one child.

‘We’ve decided not to have any more children. Since Adam was born, Garry has lost his job three times and the older Adam gets, the easier it is for me to work. Our age is also a factor – Garry is ten years older than me. Working and caring for a newborn would be a challenge for us both now.

‘I’m an only child, so I understand what it’s like for Adam. I never felt I was missing out. It’s only as I’ve got older that it’s become more of an issue. When my parents divorced, I was 21, but I struggled to come to terms with it. I wished then that I had a brother or sister who knew what I was going through.

‘Adam has a friend his own age who lives close by. They’re together every day – their relationship is definitely brotherly, and as I know myself, close friends can be just as loving and supportive as a sibling.’

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For more on pregnancy, birth, and planning a family, don’t miss Practical Parenting magazine each month.

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