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Topics > Healthy Outlook > "Spacing" Is Best to Ensure Optimum Health for Mother and Baby

"Spacing" Is Best to Ensure Optimum Health for Mother and Baby

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Fri., Sept. 07, 2007
By Francie Wise, RN, MPH

HOW LONG should a mother wait to have another child? This is a common question we get from parents, and an important one.

The answer is that moms and their babies are both healthier if there is at least two years between the birth of the baby and the mom"s next pregnancy.

We refer to this as healthy "birth spacing" and Contra Costa Health Services - the county"s health department - has started an educational program to spread the word about the importance of waiting at least two years between pregnancies.

Our data show that in almost one in five Contra Costa women are having children closer together than two years, which puts both mother and child at risk for problems.

Of course, we recognize that women who are older than 35 and want multiple children may not have the option of waiting.

What are some of the possible problems of short birth spacing (less than 24 months) for the baby?

  • Low birth weight (less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. at birth) can lead to baby"s immune system not working as well (making baby more likely to get sick), mental disabilities and even death.
  • Premature birth (born before the 37th week of pregnancy). Premature babies can be at risk for breathing problems, immune system problems, infections, mental disabilities, cerebral palsy and vision/hearing loss.
  • Higher infant mortality (death).

What are some of the possible problems of short birth spacing for the mother?

  • Early labor (labor that begins before the 37th week of pregnancy).
  • Tearing of the uterus.
  • Bleeding late in pregnancy.
  • Postpartum depression and increased stress for mom is more common.

Why can short birth spacing cause problems?

Poor nutrition contributes to problems associated with not waiting between births.

Every pregnant woman should eat a healthy diet so that she and her baby get the nutrients (protein, vitamins, carbohydrates and minerals) they need. This helps the mom to stay healthy and the baby to grow and develop normally.

Nutrition is also very important before and after pregnancy. It takes time to replace these nutrient stores, and that is why it is important to allow enough time between pregnancies.

Vitamin B (folic acid) is particularly important for good health and can help prevent some birth defects. Women need folic acid throughout life, especially before and during pregnancy. (Visit and search for folic acid.)

What are the benefits of healthy birth spacing?

  • Baby can be born at the right time and have a healthy weight.
  • Baby can develop well because mom can give lots of attention to the baby.
  • Mom will have more energy and be less "stressed out."
  • Mom will have more time to bond with the baby.
  • Future babies will be healthier because mom"s body had enough time to replace nutrient stores before getting pregnant again.
  • Mom has more time to spend with the child, and the child receives more attention and assistance with developmental tasks.
  • Families have more time to bond with each child.
  • Parents have more time for each other and themselves.
  • Families can have less financial stress.

For more information on healthy birth spacing or prenatal care, visit the CCHS Web site at

Wise is director of public health nursing for Contra Costa Health Services.

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