Health Risks to Keep in Mind for Back-to-Back Pregnancies

Chelsea Day

Many parents find themselves so filled with glee after the arrival of their first baby (particularly if he or she is a good sleeper) that they’re in a big hurry to do it all over again. Event parents who may be having a hard time or are in the trenches of colic occasionally argue that they may as well “get it over with.” Many follow parents’ trends, having kids close together for a big family or do the opposite, with only children rushing to have subsequent kids so that their child can be surrounded with buddies.

Back-to-back pregnancies seem to be the thing to do nowadays, with many parents shirking birth control in favor of letting nature take its course. There are tons of benefits to having kids close together, including default friendship for the kids and a rapid progression through diaper days for mom and dad! However, doctors do warn about health risks for both mom and baby when pregnancies are close together.

Low birth rate and prematurity are more likely to occur when the mother gets pregnant within six months of the first child's birth, likely due to depleted nutrients in the mother's body that haven't had a chance to build back up yet. In fact, a 2011 study showed that children born within one year of another sibling are three times more likely to be diagnosed with autism. Experts point to decreased folate levels in the mother's body after having a baby and suggest that a strict nutritional routine can help combat those issues.

Stress on the family is another concern, with parents more worried about finances and attention between children when brothers and sisters are close together, and the potential for sibling abuse being much higher for kids who have yet to learn boundaries. Complications that arose during the first pregnancy—such as thyroid issues, blood pressure problems and excessive weight gain—can be aggravated during a subsequent pregnancy, particularly if the woman's body hasn't had a chance to bound back yet.

New pregnancies also trigger hormones in the woman's body that can make ongoing breastfeeding more difficult. Breasts become more tender and the taste of breast milk can change, causing some babies to wean themselves when their mother becomes pregnant with a sibling. Many moms, however, are able to successfully breastfeed throughout an entire pregnancy.

What to know about back-to-back pregnancies:

  • Back-to-back pregnancies are not unheard of. In fact, they happen more frequently than you might think.
  • Back-to-back pregnancies are becoming increasingly popular, especially among younger women. But not everyone who wants to have back-to-back babies is prepared for the challenges that can arise. For families expecting back-to-back babies, it can be a time of great stress, physical and emotional exhaustion, and financial challenges.
  • Benefits of having babies close together include the fact that you’ll experience less ‘shock’ from having your life upended. The biggest transition is going from a childless state to being a parent, but many parents find themselves getting back into a familiar groove between the first and second years of their baby’s life. With back-to-back kids, things are already fairly upended and the difference in routine doesn’t feel as dramatic. Children are also more likely to share interests and play together if they’re close in age, and you’ll have the baby gear already out and ready to go. Children close together are ready to learn together and can often be homeschooled at the same level. There is also less concern about the ability to get pregnant if you have children close together while young, versus waiting for subsequent kids until several (potentially fertile) years have passed.
  • Potential issues that can arise from having babies close together include the fact that it’s physically exhausting to care for multiple infants at once. Instead of having one arm constantly full, you may find that you’re cradling one with one and one with the other. While the babies may entertain each other as they age, there’s also a strong chance that they’ll become competitive with each other. You’ll also need duplicate strollers, car seats, and perhaps even cribs – depending how close together they are and how far in advance you’ve planned. You may feel frustrated that you’re missing out on one-on-one bonding time with your babies because they are both demanding to the point that you have fewer quiet moments with each, and less time to savor their individual personalities.
  • Consider the fact that a subsequent pregnancy may be with twins – or even triplets. There are multiple studies showing that chance of having twins increases dramatically for women who get pregnant while breastfeeding. Almost every couple has that one set of friends who found themselves going from one to three or four before they knew it. When you get pregnant while your hormones are still out of whack from an earlier baby, you never know what’s going to happen.
  • Expect weird reactions. There are many people who have specific notions about spacing out births, and they may not have the kindest, gentlest, most enthusiastic response to your close-together baby announcements. Remember that your family plan is exactly that – YOURS. Don’t feel the need to explain or justify your choices. Have a response planned for when people inevitably feel compelled to comment about it or ask if this is the last one.
  • There may be no follow-up baby shower. With babies so close together, friends and family may feel like you already have what you need.
  • Most drawbacks of having a baby are actually universal, regardless of how close together they are. Pregnancy blues, morning sickness and back aches are all part of the experience for expectant mamas everywhere.
  • Childcare is likely to be the biggest issue, both financially and personally. Preschools and daycares may not have room for two babies at once, and they’ll naturally charge for each resulting in increased strain on your wallet. Even if you have friends and relatives who have generously volunteered to take care of your children in their retirement or days off, they may have different feelings when facing two babies at a time. The best way to approach childcare is with lots of research and transparency up-front.
  • When it comes to planning a pregnancy, don't be afraid to ask for advice. While you may already have good intuition about what's best for you and your family, sharing your thoughts with other moms who've been there can help keep your pregnancy (and your sanity) on track.

Have you dealt with back-to-back pregnancies? How did you make sure to foster health for the whole family?

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Helping parents live simple and satisfying lives. Our homeschooling family loves to learn, and in our spare time (hah!) we RV travel and flip houses.

Boise, ID

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