Wait A Year Between Pregnancies To Minimize Health Risks To The Mom, Say Doctors

Two pregnancies within six months of each other can cause rare, but serious, complications for the mother.

A pregnant woman nestles a teddy bear next to her stomach.
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Two pregnancies within six months of each other can cause rare, but serious, complications for the mother.

Women should wait a year between pregnancies to avoid potentially life-threatening complications for both the baby and the mother, according to new research from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Most women consider a variety of factors when spacing out their pregnancies — their financial situation, their readiness for another baby, the dynamics within their own families, and so on. But an equally-important factor to consider is how soon the body is ready to carry and deliver another baby. There are health implications for both the mother and the baby that must factor into the decision, according to established research.

For years, the conventional wisdom has been that women should wait 18 months to two years between pregnancies, according to CBC News. Now, however, new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that waiting only a year between pregnancies is enough to ward off the likely complications that could come from having pregnancies too close together.

Laura Schummers, the study’s lead author, says that she and her team — in looking at the data — saw several risks that could be most fully mitigated by waiting 18 to 24 months. But those same risks could be mitigated by waiting only 12 months, as well.

it's safe to wait only a year between pregnancies
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What The Data Says

Looking at the records of 148,544 pregnancies in British Columbia over 10 years — between 2004 and 2014 — Dr. Schummers and her team found that women who wait as little as six months were more at-risk for rare, but severe and life-threatening, complications during pregnancy and birth than women who waited longer.

Premature Birth: Among women between 20 and 34 years old who became pregnant six months after their last baby was born, 85 out of 1,000 of their babies were born prematurely. However, among women in the same age group who waited a year or more between pregnancies, only 37 out of 1,000 babies were born premature.

Deadly Risks For The Mother: Similarly, according to Fox News, “older women” (that is, women over 35) who spaced their pregnancies less than 12 months apart were at a greater risk of needing blood transfusions, of being put on a ventilator, or of organ failure. Women in both age groups who waited longer had a comparatively lower chance of developing those complications.

Good News For Some Moms

That they don’t have to wait 18 months to two years between pregnancies is good news for many women. Some women, for example, may belong to cultural communities that value women having many children. Women who wait until later in life to have kids — say, until their mid-30’s — can also take comfort in the news, by being able to have more pregnancies in their remaining fertility window.

Far From Settled

Still, says Dr. Schummer, much work remains to be done. Doctors still don’t fully understand why a second pregnancy less than a year before the most recent is biologically risky — and more research is always needed.