The perfect age gap

When is the best time to have a second child?  Is there a perfect age gap that will ensure limited sibling rivalry and less stress all round?

According to the Department of Statistics, the average interval between births in NZ is two years and nine months.  However, if you’re currently worrying about when to start on baby number two, it’s worth knowing that there is no right time for a second child – but there are some things that you can consider.

It’s important not to get too hung up on it, though, as this can put pressure on you to conceive during a certain time frame and being worried about it and the stress this can cause can actually stop you getting pregnant. Every age gap brings its own benefits and drawbacks and only you can decide what’s best for you and your family based on a multitude of factors.

A new baby at 12 to 18 months

Sibling rivalry is less intense when the age difference between your first and second child is 18 months or less, say the experts, mainly because by the time your second child arrives, your eldest won’t yet have a fully developed sense of identity and so is less likely to be jealous. Other good news is that a shorter gap can help you get your childcare costs and the care of very young children over and done within a shorter space of time.
Mum of two children Sian, 28, says “What is hard is the stress of having two babies still in nappies and not sleeping through the night. Mind you, it’s easier now they’re older as my girls happily play together as they are only 14 months apart.”

A new baby at two years old

Research shows that conceiving again 18 months after giving birth is best for the new baby’s health. However, sibling rivalry tends to be at its strongest when the age gap between children is around two years, which has much to do with child development issues.
At the age of two children become frustrated easily when they cannot control their environment. This means they are more prone to tantrums and jealousy. What works in your favour is that the age gap is not too large – so as they get older your kids will start to play together and enjoy being with each other.

Three years and above

After three years, the chances of sibling rivalry lessen.  This gap is good for your eldest child’s self-esteem – they are more secure and more independent as they have had your attention for three years. Plus, giving your body a rest of over two years between pregnancies allows you to fully recover from the challenges of childbirth.
A larger age gap also allows you time back at work in between and the opportunity to spend time with each child, when one is at preschool/school. On the downside, the age gap can be too wide for your children to play together or be close, though the differences may get smaller as they both get older. You will also have to effectively start over again with nappies, sleepless nights and caring for a tiny baby just when you’ve put all that behind you.

How to decide when to have baby number two:

  • How are you feeling? Are you tired, stressed, stretched to the end of your tether with work and/or childcare? If so, do you really have the time and energy for a new baby?
  • Can you afford it? Can you afford childcare for another five years or to take leave from work? Be realistic.
  • How old are you? If you’re in your early 30’s you have time to plan another pregnancy. After 35 years your fertility decreases, so you have a smaller window of opportunity to get pregnant in.
  • Do you and your partner agree on the best time for another baby? This is a vital component of whether or not it’s the best time to try again.
  • What’s coming up for your only child? Does the next year hold potty training, weaning, or a big life change of some sort? If so, will having another child give you time for both your current child or children and yourself?