You may notice that people have strong opinions on the subject, though doctors, researchers and psychologists — not to mention other parents — will often tell you completely different things.
Here are a few popular takes on this age-old question.
The Caveman Plan:
While we were still hunters and gatherers, the average age gap was three to four years. Surprised? There’s a simple explanation: Out of necessity and practicality, mothers would breastfeed their children for 2 or 3 years, which prevented ovulation.
The mother’s body also had a chance to recover, and during that time, her attention was undivided, which had a distinct advantage, as rates of survival rocketed for children with their mothers’ full care during their early years.
Incidentally (or maybe not), this is still a popular age gap for many modern parents, who find it an easier adjustment both for themselves and their first children.
The Biological Clock Argument:
While men are fertile from puberty onward, not so for women. The ever-increasing age of first-time moms can make it feel like that so-called biological clock is ticking faster and faster.
While women in their 20s may feel like they have all the time in the world, if you have your first child in your mid-30s to early 40s, you may feel like you have to secure that second child while there’s still time. Which means that some moms are shortening the gap. And it may not be a decision, anyway — some people get pregnant surprisingly easily the second time around.
The Medical Take:
Pregnancy, birth and post-birth are hard phases for the body, which needs time to recuperate before a new pregnancy. Some medical research suggests that the ideal time between babies is 24 to 35 months.
By that time, the mother’s body has had a chance to recover after the previous birth, as well as stocking up on vitamins and minerals. But it also still “remembers” what it’s like to be pregnant and is therefore better prepared for doing it again. If the interval is larger, especially seven years or more, scientists say that the risk for preeclampsia increases.
Studies also show that babies are affected by the length of the gap. Children conceived less than six months after the previous birth are at a higher risk of being born prematurely and having a low birth weight. The same was the case for children who were conceived more than ten years after their nearest sibling.
The Psychologist’s Approach:
Of course, you’ll also want to take your older child into consideration. Jeannie Kidwell, a professor of family studies at the University of Tennessee, claims the ideal time for a new sibling is either before the child turns 1 or after she has turned 4, when the risk of sibling rivalry
According to Kidwell, children under the age of 1 are not yet aware of their position within the family and thus will not feel threatened by a new child.
Children over the age of 4 have already had a lot of attention from their parents and are more independent. They will also have different needs than a smaller sibling.
In the end, as with most parenting issues, the best decision is whatever works best for your family.