You have read Part 1 of “Planning for a Second Baby” and are certain that your heart is telling you to go for Baby Number Two.
But what does your body say? Are you ready to plunge straight into baby-making or can you afford to wait?
Maybebaby walks you through some important health considerations that you should bear in mind when deciding when to start trying to conceive again.
1. How Old Are You?
Age is definitely a factor when it comes to fertility and pregnancy. If you are under 30 and do not have any health problems that could make conception and pregnancy difficult, you could probably afford to space your children three or more years apart.
However, female fertility rate drops dramatically once you reach 35. While it is still possible to conceive after 35, the chances of infertility, miscarriage and problems with the baby also increase, and older mums may not have the luxury of waiting longer before they have more children.
2. Is Your Body Ready?
Your body needs time to recover from the physical stress of each pregnancy and birth. “Ideally, the next child should be born at least one year apart from the previous child so that the mother’s body will have a chance to recover”, advises Associate Professor Tan Kok Hian, Chairman of the Division of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. In particular, women who delivered their first child via a Caesarean section are advised to wait to allow the uterus time to heal and strengthen before the next pregnancy.
Some studies have indicated that getting pregnant within six months of the previous pregnancy increases the risk of complications such as premature delivery, or losing a baby shortly before or after birth. Prof Tan goes on to list the negative impacts on the mother’s mental and physical health if the gap between babies is too short. “The mother might suffer from depression if she cannot cope psychologically. She may also suffer from anaemia or poor nutrition if she has too many babies within a short period of time”, he cautions.
Some women may have the desire to get their bodies back into shape and may want to enjoy being back to their pre-pregnancy weight before delving into pregnancy all over again. You may have to wait until your first child is older before you have the time and energy to head for the gym or to maintain a regular fitness regime to lose the pregnancy weight, before embarking on your next pregnancy.
3. The New Baby’s Health
Waiting for a year or more may also be beneficial to the new baby’s health. Babies conceived less than six months after a sibling’s birth may have a higher risk of preterm birth, low birth weight and being small for their gestational age. Studies showed that these risks lessoned month on month as the gap between pregnancies increased, becoming almost insignificant by 18 months.
Prof Tan also points out that the first child’s health and wellbeing should not be neglected, especially if the firstborn is still in its infancy. “It is important that the mother gives close attention to her newborn baby and bonds with him or her. A newborn requires special and undivided attention. Hence, it is recommended that the mother devotes at least six months to caring for each baby before the couple plans for another child.”
4. Caring For More Than One Baby
You may have to brace yourself for a more difficult pregnancy if you conceive soon after the birth of your first child. Many mothers find that they tire more easily during their subsequent pregnancies, simply because they have an infant or toddler demanding all their time, energy and attention, making it difficult for her to get the rest and sleep that she so badly needs.
Teresa Phua, 36, is mother to two children, aged two and one. She was 34 when her daughter was born and conceived again, unexpectedly, just five months later. She shares a glimpse into her hectic schedule when she was pregnant with her son.
“Mornings were usually hectic: breastfeeding, bathing and playing with the baby; pureeing food; washing up; changing diapers. The activities wound down after lunch when No.1 would nap and I could have some time to put my feet up (literally) and rest, do some crochet or take a little nap”, recalls Teresa. Another flurry of activities would start in the late afternoon with a trip to the playground, dinner, bath and letting the baby spend time with her grandparents. “I was so busy with No.1 that I often forgot that I was pregnant! I was exhausted, yes, even with lots of help from my mother-in-law and my helper.”
Even putting her daughter to bed for the night didn’t necessarily spell an end to Teresa’s busy days during her second pregnancy. Despite it being a smooth pregnancy with nary a wave of morning sickness or cravings, it was hard for Teresa to get a good night’s sleep. “I would try to sleep early but it was difficult because midnight to 2 am was No.2’s mandated time for kicking, somersaulting and generally tomfoolery!”
Be prepared to have your workload double once the second baby arrives. If your first child is still in diapers and drinking from the bottle, you can expect to spend a good part of your day under the continuous assault of soiled diapers and used bottles that have to be washed.
However, every family’s situation is different. If you have additional assistance from extended family members or hired help, managing two or more children, especially very young ones, need not be exponentially harder.
Teresa is grateful for the help from her mother-in-law and her helper, both during her second pregnancy and after younger baby arrived. “No.1 started sleeping with her grandmother at the beginning of my third trimester. This helped to wean her off the breast and sleep through the night,” she says, “Special thanks to my mother-in-law for calmly and patiently putting her back to sleep every time she woke up.”
With a familiar daily routine established, when her second baby arrived, Teresa could leave her older child in her mother-in-law’s good hands while she stayed with her mother during the confinement period. Two camps for two babies, she calls it. “Some mothers may feel a little heartache at “relinquishing” their position like that, but I think it’s good for a child to be able to feel secure and happy with someone other than her mother,” she says, “I was glad that the one month away from me was not a trying, traumatic and miserable time for my daughter.”
Extra help at home doesn’t have to take on a human form. Teresa invested in a dryer to cope with the extra laundry, despite her initial reluctance to get one. “When it rained for seven days straight in December and the cloth diapers were hanging everywhere and not getting dry, we threw in the towel and got one,” she muses, “On the day the dryer was delivered, the sun finally came out – nice and strong. Still, we have no regrets! Now, our clothes come out dry, warm and clean on demand!”
Listen to your heart when asking yourself whether the time is right for a second baby, but don’t ignore what your body is telling you. Pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for a newborn in addition to your first child, will greatly affect your health and wellbeing – both physically and mentally.
“There are many factors to consider when planning for a second child,” says Prof Tan, “Most importantly, the family must be ready to manage the newborn while coping with other children.”
Pregnancy and childbirth can be a physically demanding and tiring journey in itself. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance even before you successfully conceive number two. It’s never too early to start “recruiting” willing helpers, be it in the form of immediate family, relatives or hired help. As Teresa concludes, “All in all, the process of having two babies back to back has been manageable – with LOTS of help.”
Stay tuned for Part 3 of “Planning for a Second Baby” where Maybebaby discusses financial factors to consider before trying for Number Two.
I Love Children would like to thank Associate Professor Tan Kok Hian and KKH Women and Children’s Hospital for their professional input. We would also like to thank Ms Teresa Phua for sharing her story with us.