My girls are two years and four and half months apart… just to be extremely exact. Margo was 20 months old when I found out I was pregnant. Early pregnancy exhaustion and nausea set in soon after I took that pregnancy test, and stayed there for about 2 or 3 months. I spent a lot of time laying down on the couch, reading Margo books, or half dozing while she toddled around in the living room. The first trimester was during the hottest summer months, and the heat made me stick to our vinyl couch… the thought of opening the fridge to cook something made my stomach turn and I made sure that every time Margo had a nap, I was passed out along side of her. It was pure luck and a huge blessing that the exhaustion happened just at the start of school holidays, so I was off from work until the worst of it subsided. Looking back at the whole thing I can draw a better picture of what it means to have two kids relatively close in age. I know some people have kids much closer together than I did, or some even have twins or more on their hands, but it was still ‘2 under 3’ and it was a bit of juggling act to get started (still is).
I’ve heard that three years difference is the magic number. I’ve also heard people say, ‘less than 18 months apart, or more than 3 years apart‘. (Oops, didn’t get either one of those right).
There are too many factors to take into consideration for there to be a ‘one-size-fits-all‘ for spacing out babies. The parent’s age, difficult pregnancies, finances, work, etc. are all obvious things to consider. But there are some less than obvious factors that I had never even thought of before. These are things that I found worthy to be considered when having kids closely spaced apart:
Probably the biggest factor for me, when considering to have siblings close together, is the breastfeeding factor. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least the first 2 years of a child’s life. Not only is it awesome for their health, but breastfeeding a toddler is great for a disorganized mother like myself, who would sometimes forget to make snacks or would not have ready made food laying around the house. So, if you’re planning on breastfeeding for at least 2 years, or want to wean naturally, you have to consider if you would also consider breast feeding while pregnant and then possibly tandem feeding, OR weaning before you and your older child are ready.
Breastfeeding while pregnant is not for the faint hearted. For some, (not all) it can be very uncomfortable to downright painful, or can make you EXTREMELY irritable (as in crazy hormones saying, ‘GET OFFA ME!!). For me, I had no problem breast feeding through pregnancy. It was really easy. Although, my milk supply dried up almost completely at around 4 months, Margo was happy to have whatever teeny tiny drops there were. But, some toddlers, get frustrated or just don’t want to bother, or don’t like the new taste and they self wean early, when their mother is pregnant with another baby.
When Goldie was born, it was so awesome having my older one around to drink up the excess. I didn’t have to worry about being engorged. I had a human breast pump, it was great! Your body accommodates to the new baby, so you make the milk that is appropriate for the baby. Although.. colostrum is a laxative…so you can just imagine what happens to the toddler poos after they’ve been drinking colostrum!
I had no aversion towards breastfeeding while pregnant, or even for the first six weeks or so post-partum… but then.. nursing aversion hit me hard when I was about 2 or 3 months post partum. Feeding the baby was fine, but the thought of feeding my toddler made me want to run down the street screaming!
Some woman who have their children extremely close together, talking 18 months or less, have a real problem of their milk drying up before the baby is eating enough solids and have to put their babies on formula or some kind of milk substitute. Lucky for me, Margo was eating enough solids by the time I became pregnant, so I didn’t have to give her anything extra to supplement her diet.
While tandem feeding worked for me, it’s not for everyone. Some people just can’t do it…. I’m not talking physically can’t do it, almost all woman can provide enough milk. But, for some, there are strong hormones to deal with that literally make you want to throw the older kid off of you and make you want to hit your head on the wall. I’m not joking! I even joined a help group full of mothers who felt exactly like I did about avoiding nursing. We all sort of concluded that in nature, animals sort of kick the older one out of the nest, but that we didn’t feel that our older ones were ready. It’s a really hard situation though, because we are NOT animals, and we know the emotional and health benefits of extended breastfeeding.
So, for me, the breastfeeding factor is, by far, the biggest factor to consider when spacing kids apart.
Generally, what happens is that, because your attention is taken up with the new baby, the older child tends starts missing their connection time and starts ‘misbehaving‘. It doesn’t always happen right at birth, but countless familes report having problems with their older child’s behavior once the younger child starts to get a little bit older. Sometimes it’s harder to form a bond with the younger child, because you’re so busy paying attention to the demanding needs of a toddler. And, then, sometimes you start loosing the bond with your older one because you’re busy exhausted from dealing with all the commotion! It can leave your head in quite a mess and that first or year or two can be totally chaotic. Here is a post I wrote with some great playful ways to deal with a child’s defiant behavior, should you need some extra tools up your sleeve.
Co-Sleeping With Two Little Ones
Both of my girls sleep in our room. If you’re co-sleeping with your first and they are relatively young, you may not want to kick them out of the room yet, and from what I’ve found, you don’t have to! I found that after the initial first few weeks of the toddler getting used to the new baby, somehow, both kids sort of sleep through the usual night noises! The baby was already used to the older one’s noises from being in the womb. And, I was really surprised that after a few weeks, Margo was sleeping through her baby sister’s wakings too! I mean, there wasn’t too much noise, as with co-sleeping, you get to the baby as they’re stirring and they don’t really cry too much anyway. So, the good news is that usually, co-sleeping with two littles ones, can work fine.
Toilet Training and Two Kids Under Three
Margo was fully potty trained day and night by the time she was 14 months old. I was really grateful that I had done elimination communication with her and that by the time baby #2 came along, she was long long out of nappies. If your older child is not toilet trained by the time you are pregnant, you may want to consider toilet training early, or taking up a little bit of EC to get things going (check out how to EC an older baby here). I’m not sure what that is like toilet training with a baby around or having two in nappies, but from what I’ve heard, it’s not easy. It’s not that it’s much harder, it’s just that the process may be delayed because of the adjustment period of having the new baby around.
In my experience, doing elimination communication with two kids at a time has been pretty easy and non-eventful so far.
Playing (or Fighting) Together
You have to remember that having a sibling born is one of the most stressful times in a child’s life. Their world literally gets turned upside-down. While many parents choose to have their children close together so they can share activities, it sometimes ends up backfiring and the children fight more than anything because they are vying for your attention. Somedays I look at how nicely my girls play together now and I’m grateful that they have each other to play with, but I wouldn’t use the ‘play’ factor a key reason to have children close together. You never know what will happen. Some siblings born close together, end up loving each other, and others fight like cats and dogs!
Baby Wearing and Wear and Tear On Your Body
Pregnancy and breast feeding is tough on the body. For almost 4 years now, I’ve either been pregnant, breastfeeding, or both. I’m a pretty tough and sturdy type, but even I have to take good care of myself to make sure I don’t get run down. In many indigenous cultures, the first 2 years, the baby spends a considerable amount of time being worn in a baby carrier. I wear my babies everywhere too! I would even say up until the age of three, children really need to be carried or pushed in a stroller most places, especially if you plan on getting anywhere in a timely fashion. But, even older kids, who are 3, 4, and even 5 get tired when they have to walk long distances. They want to be picked up and carried and they still need lots of ‘in lap‘ time. Waiting just that tiny bit longer between babies gives that older child a good chance to grow stronger and more independent without having to force the independence too early.
In the End, it will all work out!
Whatever the age gap is between your kids, it probably doesn’t really matter anyway. Most of the inconvenience of having kids close together is in the early years. And, if you end up having kids spaced apart, they still play nicely and then you get the bonus of enjoying that baby phase again, without a toddler under foot.