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What is the best age gap between children?

Mother with baby and three other children of various age gapsWhen you know you’d like more than one child, one of big questions you ask yourself is ‘what age gap is best?’.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to fall pregnant when planned but, if you are able to roughly time when your babies will come, what age gap is best for you, your family and your situation?

Some of the most common factors to consider are whether or not you can — or want to — handle two young children at the same time, and whether the children will get along well.

We are going to consider the pros and cons of three different gaps, which we’ve labelled (for the convenience of this article) as follows:

  • small gaps — about 18 months and less between births
  • middle-ranged — about 2-4 years age gap
  • larger gap — more than 5 years

Small Age Gaps (about 18 months or less)

The pros

  • Less risk of sibling rivalry — if your first child is 18 months old or younger, they don’t have a fully developed sense of identity yet, and so won’t get feelings of jealousy of having a younger sibling.
  • The kids are likely to play well together as they will be close enough in age that they are interested in similar sorts of things at the same time.
  • You can use the same baby clothes and other baby items again, better for your budget. It also gets all the “baby” expenses over with quicker.
  • You will have a shorter time to deal with things like nappies and sleep deprivation.

The cons

  • Having two in nappies, and not sleeping through can take its toll. It is exhausting having two children in these stages at the same time. A break between each round of nappies and toilet training, and sleepless nights could be good for you.
  • There are health risks to the second baby if you fall pregnant within six months of having your first child. These risks include premature birth, low birth weight, and low weight for gestational age.
  • In some cases having babies very close together may mean that you’ll need two of some things rather than be able to recycle them. For example you may need two cots or a new double pram…
  • Pregnancy depletes mum’s nutrient stores so giving a little more time in between babies helps mum recover fully and keep as healthy as possible.

Middle-Ranged Aged Gaps (2-4 years)

The pros

  • Mum is usually fully recovered from pregnancy and birth and her body is ready to carry another child.
  • The health risks to the second baby if it is conceived too early or too late do not apply with this age gap.
  • The first child could end up as a helper AND a close playmate for the younger sibling.
  • You will get a break from the “baby” stage, but still remember how it feels to have a little baby, so it won’t be such of a shock going back to that stage.

The cons

  • Sibling rivalry may be an issue, if the first child’s sense of identity is fully formed by the time your second child is born. This depends on how quickly your first child matures though.
FORUM: Chat to other parents in our what gap between babies forum section

Large Age Gaps (more than 5 years)

The pros

  •  A larger age gap can mean more one-on-one time with each child, as the older one needs less uninterrupted attention once the new baby is born.
  • You can spread out the expenses if you think you won’t be able to afford two sets of essential nursery items close together. You can always keep old things to use again, but keep in mind some items can deteriorate.
  • You get a break between baby stages, so you can catch up on sleep and grown up things that you can’t necessarily do with little kids about.
  • Mum should be completely recovered from pregnancy and birth and her body will be ready to grow and care for another child.
  • You can have a little helper in your first child — they can be a part of looking after the baby.

The cons

  • Large age gaps run the risk of sibling rivalry, as the first child’s sense of identity is fully formed and they may resent the younger child for suddenly getting more or most of the attention.
  • Age gaps of more than five years can also cause prematurity, low birth weight, and low weight for gestational age.
  • It can be hard to go back into the “baby” stage after your first child becomes more self-sufficient; you get used to the autonomy that child has developed.

Deciding when to have your next child is a big decision. It will always come down to what family dynamic you want.  From a medical standpoint, around 2-3 years seems to be the best gap. This ensures mum’s body is ready for more kids, and limits the risks to the new baby.

How well the kids will get along is greatly influenced by many other factors that their age gap has no bearing on — for example personality, interests, gender, etc. — so the age gap cannot really be held too highly accountable for their relationship.

Essentially, it is entirely up to the wants and needs of your family, whether you think your family is ready for another baby, and what age gap you think will suit you, your partner, and your first child best.

If you’re still not sure, any age gap should be fine in a home with enough love and time for everyone.

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