This week we’re thinking about three things to consider before you plan for another baby.
This is a question that I get asked all the time, mostly by my clients. They’ve already one baby, or two or more, and they’re wondering, How do I know if I’m ready to have another baby? Now some people come to me and they say, I want another baby now! And my baby’s only six months old. Other people come to me saying, Oh my God! That was so hard. I’m never, ever going through that again.
So, you probably sit somewhere on the spectrum between those two extremes, and you might be wondering, Will I ever feel like I’m ready to have another baby? Or you might be feeling like, I want one now, am I totally crazy?!
Let’s help you make the right decision for you and for your family. When you listen to these three things to think about, before you plan to have another baby, you’ll help make the right decision for you and for family, and of course, the right decision for your older babies. And I use the world older babies because I know that once you’ve had a baby, even if they’re five or ten years old, they’re still your babies.
What Did Our Ancestors Do?
Now the first thing to think about, and I always start here, is history. I love to look back in time as an anthropologist and I love to see how humans used to do it; how we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. This doesn’t mean this is the right way to do it, because a lot of things change. And some of the ways that we used to do things are no longer relevant.
When we go back in time and have a look at the way hunter-gatherers used to do thing, what is does help us to understand is how our bodies physically have evolved and we what we expect. That’s the reason I’m sharing this with you.
If you go right back to hunter-gatherer societies, they used to breastfeed their children for about three years or more, even up to four or five years. And the reason for this is because they didn’t have access to good, solid nutrition to be able to wean their babies completely. The babies were breastfed for a long time because they didn’t have access to other milk, like cow’s milk or goat’s milk, and they also didn’t have access to grains. Obviously when you think about weaning a baby, the first thing we usually give them are milks and grains. They didn’t have that, and they certainly didn’t have the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables that we currently have.
So, the used to wait a lot longer before weaning completely. It was safe to wean a baby completely from breast milk at about the age of three years, and this was for a couple of reasons. It would ensure the older child’s survival, and also it would ensure the baby’s survival. And the other reason is at three years old, they were old enough to get all of their nutrition from solid food and they were old enough to walk. If you think about a hunter-gatherer society, they were nomadic and they needed to move around from one place to another, and collect water and go hunting and gathering. A mother couldn’t actually carry two children at once, as well as carrying all the other things she needed to carry. So, at the age of three children are generally capable of walking a little bit further, so that then the mother can carry the new baby.
The longer the age gap then the more likely it is that the family survives. This was really essential for hunter-gatherer families. It shifted a lot when hunter-gatherer families settled into agricultural societies, and that age gap went from about three to four years, right down to about two years, which is where it still is. Probably a fairly common age gap in our culture is two years, and this is because we don’t need to carry our older children around any more. We’ve got prams and cars and bike seats, and all sorts of ways of moving children.
And, we’ve got access to proper nutrition. Because we can now get really healthy and safe baby food (not necessarily from the shops - you can make it yourself!), we have this abundance of food, and it means that we can wean from the breast much earlier. This is very safe and doesn’t impact their survival rates as directly and immediately.
So that’s where we’re at now and that’s what’s changed. The only other thing to add is, one of the reasons your baby wakes you up at night is to ensure their survival. If you’ve been waking up at night, many (many, many) times, your baby has got a strong survival instinct! All they are remembering is they’ve evolved over thousands and thousands of years to try and make their parents have a longer age gap between siblings, because it would ensure their survival as the older child.
If they’re waking you up a lot in the night, you’re less likely to be having sex in the first place. But you’re also less likely to be ovulating because you’ll be breastfeeding more frequently. So, when your baby wakes you up they’re just remembering thousands and thousands and thousands of years, and this is their best way to ensure survival.
That’s the history and anthropology of age gaps.
Mum’s The Word
The next thing I want you to consider is you. Now, I’m not going to talk about parents so much, as in your partner. I’m not an expert on dads! My business is newborn mothers, and I talk to mothers, so really what we’re going to be talking about here is you as the mother, and how you make your decision about whether you’re ready or not to have another baby. You can of course, talk to your partner, and I assume that you will involve him in the decision making.
I’d really love to hear from dads out there, or any mothers who want to share their partner’s stories. Please leave some comments on what it’s like for a father to decide whether or not they’re ready to have another child.
For mothers there’s a few things to consider, and one of them is just your physical health. Some people have quite difficult pregnancies or difficult childbirth, and physically it might take them longer to recover and feel ready to go through that again. So a particular example of this is if people have extreme morning sickness. I know lots of mothers for whom this has been a really big part of their decision making progress if they’re ready or not to be pregnant again, because they don’t want to go through that morning sickness.
Same if you’ve had a really difficult childbirth. Maybe you had some complications that may repeat themselves. Or maybe you’re just not feeling strong enough yet. That’s fine. Only you know when you’re physically healthy and fit, and you feel able to have the energy to go through all that again. It’s a huge thing to be pregnant and give birth, and those first few months afterwards takes a massive physical toll. Just take your time and you’ll know when you’re ready.
The second thing to consider is maybe your mental health. Again, some people feel just generally stressed and exhausted and overwhelmed, but they may feel like they can recover from that quite well on their own. Other people do dip into postnatal depression or postpartum mood disorders. If this is you, if you’ve had any postpartum mood disorders they are more likely to reappear and be aggravated if you have another baby before you’ve really recovered from the previous child. Give yourself a bit of space if you want to avoid a recurrence of any postnatal mental health problems.
Another one to consider is your parenting style. How long you plan to breastfeed or whether you’re happy to tandem breastfeed. As I mentioned earlier, traditional societies didn’t tandem breastfeed, simply because there wasn’t enough nutrition for a mother to still be able to sustain her own health, as well as the live of two children or more. It would have been very, very difficult for her, and perhaps risked the life of all of her family. So they didn’t tandem breastfeed and they didn’t have their children close together.
Ayurveda also doesn’t recommend tandem breastfeeding, only because when you’re pregnant then your baby has waste products, and the mother has waste products. So your body is actually processing two lots of waste products, and this can mean that the milk that you produce has also got a little bit more waste in it.
Again, it’s just a small thing and in our culture with our health and nutrition, it may not be a problem if you want to tandem breastfeed. And if you feel like this is the right thing for you and your family, you may consider having your children a little bit more closer together if you want to breastfeed for longer.
If you do want to breastfeed for a longer time, generally you’re going to have a longer age gap. If you’re happy to wean your baby, then you might be ready for another child. Or, you might feel like you need a little bit if a break from this whole baby-making thing. You want to wean your baby, and then give yourself a good six months or a year to feel really fit and healthy again before you conceive.
As always, I’m going to crowdsource from the mummy vault. I’ve asked a few mums what their opinions were on the age gap. In terms of that mother, you want to consider your own personality, your parenting style, your physical and mental health, and also how much support you have. Who’s going to help you when you have your second baby? Because it’s a whole lot more work to do.
One of my mummies that I asked, she said, “I knew my limits, and I knew I’d struggle with two babies.” So if that’s you, wait until your older baby is actually a child, and then have your next baby. Know your limits.
Are The Kids Alright?
The third thing I want to consider is your older babies. Mums who are saying they want to have another baby, and their first baby is only six months old, they are not necessarily considering the age of the older baby when the new baby is born. They’re thinking about the age of the older baby when their new baby is conceived. Nine months is a long time, and a lot can change in your baby’s life. So just think; they’ll be walking, they might be talking, they’ll be eating. It will be a totally different ball game when your baby is born, rather than when the next baby is conceived. When you think about the age gap, consider that instead.
You also want to consider, perhaps, a little bit about psychology. Some children are more prone to jealousy and sibling rivalry. Some psychologists suggest that an age gap of two to four years is going to aggravate this the most. And if you want to avoid jealousy and rivalry, then you want to have a shorter age gap, so maybe 18 months. Or even a longer age gap, maybe four or five years.
Again, I actually think that probably the personality of your older child is going to be a bigger impact on whether they have jealousy and rivalry or not. Some people might have older children with disabilities or health problems, they might have older children who are just generally high-needs and demand a generous parenting style. They might have older children who still don’t sleep very well, even if they’re three or four years old, and you’re still not getting much sleep. All of this is going to affect your decision, so consider your older baby.
And again from the mummy vault, I had someone tell me, “Mine are 15 months apart through choice, and my daughter can’t remember a time when her little brother wasn’t born. So we’ve never had any jealousy. But, a lot depends on character too. If her brother had been born first, there’d be a 15 year age gap between them!” That’s a really good point. Some babies are quite easy going, and they’d be quite happy to have another little brother or sister around. If you’d had the other sibling first, you might have waited a lot longer before you had your second or third child. So consider the personality of your children.
Those are the three things I want you to consider. The history and anthropology of baby making, you as a mother and when you feel ready, and when you think your older baby will be ready. One mum who I asked about this, she had four children. Her oldest two were two years apart, and then there was a four year age gap. And then another two, who were two years apart. So, two year age gap, four years and then a two year age gap. She had experience of both longer age gaps and smaller age gaps, and this is what she said, “The best thing about the smaller age gap is that they play well together. They have similar interests and they help with the baby. Having babies closer together means I got nappies and sleepless nights all out of the way at once.”
In terms of the bigger age gap, she said, “The hardest thing is the sleep and the independence I got used to as a mother, and now that’s all gone. But that’s really the only con. Having an older one is much easier because they understand and they need permanent supervision.”
Permanent supervision is a really good point. When you have a toddler (say 18 months or two years) and a baby, you can never, ever leave them alone together because your toddler is just at that age where they’re going to be bashing things, whacking things, lifting things up, poking things in the eye. And of course, if there’s any jealousy at all, any resentment or rivalry, then you will not be able to leave your baby in the room with your toddler. That’s ok, it’s possible; lots of mums have done it. But do consider the amount of supervision that your older child will need at different ages.
So that’s it. We’ve looked at it from a point of view of history, from the point of view of the mother, and the point of view of the children. But the last thing I want to tell you is a little quote by Woody Allen. He says, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”
Fifty percent of pregnancies are unplanned. So you’re very likely to find yourself in this situation without planning it at all. On the other side, 10-20% of parents find they actually can’t conceive within a year. So all your best-laid plans, deciding when you want to have your next baby and what the age gap will be, can all just come crashing down in a heap if you fall pregnant unplanned, or if you can’t conceive.
Go with the flow. See what happens. We’ve all had little brothers and sisters, or older brothers and sisters; most of us are not single children and we all turn out ok not matter what the age gap!
I also think you’ll never regret having another baby. So if you’re on the fence about this and you’re not really sure, you’re pretty safe to just dive right in and just go for it. One mummy told me, “I’m not sure if you’re ever truly ready. You just know in your heart of hearts.” I think that’s really true. All your practical, best-laid plans will go out the window when your ovaries start throbbing, and when you see another baby and you just know you have to have another one.
Please have a think, consider these three things, and only you will know if or when you’re ready to have another baby. I’m sure you’ve all got lots of ideas and experience on this, so please leave a comment at the bottom of this blog post. I’d really love to hear from you.
And if you’ve got any other mummy friends who are thinking about being pregnant again, please pass on this article. They might really benefit from just having a few things to think about before they plan another baby.
While you’re here, you can also just pop your email in the box and signup to get emails each week.