What no one tells you about child spacing

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You may have in mind the perfect age gap for your brood. However did you know that certain age gaps carry with them, emotional, financial, intellectual and even health consequences?

At present, we parents do not have the option of determining whether a next-born child will be active or quiet, able-bodied or disabled. But we at least have some control over the child’s age relative to that of his older sibling. Here I am going to explore the serious (and not so serious) consequences of each birth spacing.

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 3 Year Age Gap
(Your child is 3 years old when your next baby is born)

Pros:

  • Your elder child should cope well with your pregnancy, understanding on a basic level, morning sickness and your need for rest.
  • You can encourage your child’s involvement in the pregnancy by taking him or her shopping for baby supplies or looking through his or her own baby items (which you probably still have hanging around) for things the new baby might use.
  • At this age your child may be receptive to having a doll so he or she can be a caregiver too, thus facilitating their understanding.
  • She will have her own established life and friends which will continue once the baby is born. This adds a helpful layer of consistency and familiarity to her life when she needs it most.
  • You have the lowest risk of labor complications (Zhu).
  • This age gap is best for the health of the new baby, with a decreased risk of being born prematurely, underweight or of developing congenital anomalies (Chen et al; Conde-Agudelo et al). In fact, a 3 year gap is nature’s preferred pattern. This is because until babies began using bottles, and a surplus of food for their mothers became available, women’s bodies were unlikely to conceive again until at least 3 years after birth.
  • This age gap between children is so common that your firstborn will have friends with similarly spaced siblings, which is very convenient for double playdates.
  • By the time your second baby arrives you should have caught up on sleep.
  • You’ll have time with just your baby while your older child is at pre-school.
  • Some of the most intense parts of parenting become easier with a calmer, and more independent 3 year old. She is more articulate and can entertain herself for limited amounts of time.
  • Your first-born is mature enough to enjoy the new baby and also to enjoy time away from you without seeing it as a threat.

Cons:

  • Observational studies of parents have found that this gap is the hardest to cope with from a practical view as the oldest child is too old to be treated similarly to his younger sibling but is not capable of caring for himself (Wagner et al).
  • Sibling jealousy is still intense. Your older child will understand exactly what the new arrival means, and may compete furiously for her share of you. She is old enough to make comparisons, but not mature enough to understand that babies need more of your care. 
  • Feeling that her security is being threatened can cause your older child to lash out at their younger sibling. Physical aggression peaks at age 3 (Tremblay).
  • There’s a lot of evidence to show that preschoolers regress (e.g. toilet mishaps, baby talk, return to comforters) when a new baby is born. The effects are greatest with this gap (Probert).
  • The younger sibling is slightly more likely to be diagnosed with autism than a child with a larger age gap (Cheslack-Postava et al).
  • Your older child’s tiny-part toys are all over the house, which could pose a danger to your baby.
  • Those baby activities you enjoyed with your firstborn are impossible with a lively preschooler in tow.
  • Your older child can bring home illnesses from preschool (chicken pox, viral diseases, colds) which could prove harmful to your baby with their immature immune system.
  • Be prepared for for an influx of questions re: the birds and the bees, genitals, boobs, and other topics some parents find embarrassing.
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