When is the ideal time to try for another child? This question has been raised so many times, yet there is still no one-size-fits-all answer.
Some doctors recommend at least 18 months to three years to give the mother’s body time to heal and recover before getting pregnant again. Some would like their kids close in age, so they’ll grow up as playmates. Others prefer a wider age gap to make sure that the soon-to-be big sibling is cared for and independent enough so they can focus on the next baby without neglecting the older child.
Well, here’s another factor to consider: the risk for autism.
New research has linked the years in between the one pregnancy and the next, indicating that it can be a factor in the younger child’s risk for developing autism. Researchers studied more than 45,000 children born in Northern California between 2000 and 2009, and found that in both shorter and longer gaps between pregnancies, the risk for autism remained strong.
"Children conceived in less than two years after the birth of their older sibling or greater than six years have [about] a two- to three-fold increased risk of being diagnosed with autism," said study researcher Lisa Croen, director of the autism research program at Kaiser Permanente division of research, in Oakland, California.
While researchers stress that having shorter or longer years in between pregnancies is not a cause for a child to develop the condition, more specific studies are needed to pinpoint how the two are connected. One possible explanation is that a mother who gets pregnant right away after giving birth to her first child has lower levels of folic acid in their body—and folic acid is a critical nutrient for a baby’s healthy brain development. On the other hand, a couple who waited longer to have another baby may have infertility issues, and their difficulty to conceive or carrying a child to term may play a role in their younger child’s risk for autism.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation, children should be spaced at least two years apart for both the mother and child’s optimum health. This recommendation is based on studies that associate pregnancy interval with the risk of low birth weight babies and pre-term delivery.
In an article on Smartparenting.com.ph, doctors weigh in: While proper child spacing is indeed recommended, Mary Faith Angat, M.D., OB-gyn at Cardinal Santos Medical Center and Taytay Doctors Multispecialty Hospital, says, “If you get pregnant less than 12 months after giving birth, it doesn’t necessarily mean there would be problems. It just means that there are things you and your doctor need to be aware of so you can enjoy a safe and healthy pregnancy.” OB-gyn and international board certified lactation consultant Patricia Kho, M.D., adds that the best way to ensure a safe pregnancy is to take good care of yourself and your unborn child, by having a good diet, taking prenatal vitamins as needed, and taking it easy when you feel tired or simply asking for help.
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Autism is a condition so complex that medical professionals are only now discovering the whys and the hows. While it’s always better to plan pregnancies according to the mother’s physical health, parents should also take into account their readiness—emotionally, mentally, and financially—for another baby.
September 16, 2015. "How Spacing Your Pregnancies Can Be a Factor in Autism”. (yahoo.com) September 14, 2015. “How Age Differences Between Siblings Can Affect Autism Risk” (time.com) September 14, 2015. “Pregnancy Intervals May Affect Autism Risk, Study Suggests” (nlm.nih.gov)