When and how to add another member to your family is one of the most personal decisions you can make, but there are a few general medical guidelines that can be helpful to keep in mind when you’re deciding. Most notably, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) strongly recommends waiting at least 6 months after giving birth before becoming pregnant again. For the best outcomes for parent and baby, ACOG recommends waiting 18 months or longer between pregnancies.
How can birth spacing impact health?
A pregnancy that begins too soon after the previous one faces higher risk of preterm delivery. Preterm birth, or having a baby before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy, carries its own set of risks for babies, including problems with breathing and lungs, infections, feeding problems, and other complications. Pregnancy and delivery of a baby shortly after another pregnancy also carries the potential for health risks for the birthing parent. Pregnancies spaced less than 18 months apart can put you at a higher risk to a number of health complications.
Pregnancies spaced less than 18 months apart are linked to a number of health complications.
Potential health complications include
- Anemia during pregnancy
- Preterm rupture of membranes (water breaking early), which often causes preterm birth but can also lead to infections
For spacing less than six months apart, risks are even more severe.
- Placental abruption, or early separation of the placenta from the uterus
- Higher risk for maternal death
Healthy birth spacing techniques
For those able to conceive through intercourse, the most effective way to prevent short interval pregnancies is to start a birth control method before you start to have sex again. If you recently gave birth, take a moment to explore your birth control options. That said, not all birth control options are created equal and some might come with a high price tag depending on your insurance and where you live.
If you have health insurance, look up the options covered by your plan (some might have co-pays, while others are free). If you need to pay out of pocket, call up a local community health clinic (for example, Planned Parenthood) to see if they can help you find an affordable option. Access to birth control is harder for some, including for people of color and those who are low-income. Those who are low-income are less likely to be insured, making the cost of birth control even higher. According to ACOG, “The unintended pregnancy rate for poor women is more than five times the rate for women in the highest income bracket.”
So what’s the best way to protect yourself and your family in an inequitable world? Think ahead about what matters most to you about your contraception. Then advocate for yourself by voicing your needs with confidence. For example, IUDs are safe, effective, and in many cases, are completely free to you. Everybody has the right to make their own choices. If you’ve given birth in the past 18 months, you have the option to choose a longer acting birth control method that gives your body more time to recover. In fact, you can even talk to your provider about postpartum birth control options prior to delivering.
Talk to your healthcare provider about the type of contraception that’s right for you.
- Grady, Cynthia D et al. “Racial and ethnic differences in contraceptive use among women who desire no future children, 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth.” Contraception vol. 92,1 (2015): 62-70. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2015.03.017
- Kossler, Karla et al. “Perceived racial, socioeconomic and gender discrimination and its impact on contraceptive choice.” Contraception vol. 84,3 (2011): 273-9. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2011.01.004
- Committee Opinion. “Access to Contraception.”American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists(ACOG). ACOG. January 2015. https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2015/01/access-to-contraception
- Fingar KR (IBM Watson Health), Mabry-Hernandez I (AHRQ), Ngo-Metzger Q (AHRQ), Wolff T (AHRQ), Steiner CA (Institute for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente), Elixhauser A (AHRQ). Delivery Hospitalizations Involving Preeclampsia and Eclampsia, 2005-2014. HCUP Statistical Brief #222. April 2017. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb222-Preeclampsia-Eclampsia-Delivery-Trends.pdf.