As soon as a baby arrives, people ask when they can expect the next. New parents need time before choosing the ideal gap between babies, and there are factors to weigh up.
With all the excitement and action surrounding a baby’s birth, thinking about another child may be the last thing on the new parents’ minds. As a routine is established, though, and the family can relax a little, the idea of a companion may become a hot topic for discussion.
If there is to be a plan, it will vary according to the wishes and longer-term aims of the parents.
A Gap of About a Year Before the Next Baby
Sometimes this is an accident, though often a delightful one.
The advantages of a short gap between babies include the shorter total time before both children are over the night wakening and nappy stages.
The children can share and enjoy the same toys; clothes, buggies, and other equipment are still around for the second arrival. They might take naps at the same time, too. If they get on well, each may become a very close and supportive friend for the other.
In the longer term, the second child will start school a year after the first, giving parents the freedom to work or “do their own thing” without the need for daytime childcare.
At the same time, two very young children this close in age are usually extremely demanding of time and energy. As they grow, they may be competitive for particular toys and for parental attention, and could at times be antagonistic to one another. And the single buggy will need to be exchanged for a double.
Eighteen to Twenty-Four Months Between the Births
The very demanding first eighteen months will be over, with the first child sometimes absorbed in play while the parent gives attention to the new baby.
The older child can be given plenty of individual attention to help avoid jealousy, and will hopefully develop a fondness for the new arrival and a willingness to help with some of the most simple tasks. As time goes on, they may each have different toy preferences, so there isn’t too much squabbling.
Depending on timing, one may start school as the other starts nursery, which gives them a bond and helps to avoid resentment at one child being away from the home while the other isn’t.
On the other hand, carers may need to be careful that the older child is gentle with the baby.
Jealousy can cause problems, and if the two are left together, the occasional smack or even bite is not uncommon, so supervision is essential.
Two to Three Year Gap between Babies
A couple of generations ago, this seemed to be the norm, and it remains a popular choice. The piles of nappies, sleepless nights, and sour-milk-covered shoulders are forgotten, and baby management skills are still in place.
The first child is developing independence and may like being helpful and playful with the baby. He or she should be sleeping reasonably well, too. And equipment from the first child will still be usable and not too unfashionable.
As before, plenty of attention will be needed for the older child to welcome the baby, and the supervision of both together continues to be vital. And there may be the awesome combination of the “terrible twos” and the demands of a new baby.
More Than Three Years Between Births
The older child is independent in a number of ways and can hopefully be helpful with fun tasks for the new baby. He or she may be better able to express any resentment or worries so that they can be addressed straight away They also tend to choose different toys, so conflict does not arise.
As they grow, however, the two children may have preferences too far apart to make them happy playing together for long.
If the first child starts school soon after the baby arrives, jealousy can arise but be expressed in unexpected ways. There may be complaints of feeling ill and wanting to stay at home or management difficulty at school. Or there may be occasional destruction of toys, which is out of character. These need patient attention and discussion with the child, with perhaps extra personal treats to build up self-image – and of course, teachers will need to be aware of the situation.
There are a number of factors to consider when planning the arrival of a second child, with arguments for and against different lengths of time between births. While some parents are just happy to wait and see what comes along, others may want to decide which gap between their children will best suit them all as a family.