How long should a couple wait between pregnancies to ensure a chance for optimal health of the new baby? A new study conducted by the obstetrics department at Soroka University Medical Center in collaboration with Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev, both in Beersheba, studied this subject.
The comparison was made between 19,000 newborns born at short intervals (six months after a delivery) and 114,000 newborns born at intermediate intervals, compared with 11,500 newborns born at intervals of more than five years between pregnancies. Gynecologists, pediatricians and epidemiologists examined what the optimal gap is between births both in terms of short-term pregnancy complications, and especially regarding long-term respiratory complications for newborns.
The study was recently published in the leading international journal Pediatric Pulmonology under the title “Short and long interpregnancy interval and the risk for pediatric obstructive sleep apnea in the offspring.”
There are many perceptions regarding the optimal gap between births, they wrote. Some advocate “getting it over with” and crowding their pregnancies at the expense of the parents’ ability to sleep and cope with the pressures, while others prefer to postpone the next pregnancy for quite some time. The issue of the optimal interval between pregnancies has been discussed in the position papers of various medical specialties, which defined a short interval at the time of pregnancy before the age of six to 18 months from the previous birth, and a long interval as such over five years.
The research team was headed by Soroka obstetrics and gynecology department head Prof. Eyal Sheiner and included Dr. Tamar Weinstock from the department of public health and Hila Rapaport-Pasternak from BGU’s Faculty of Medicine and Prof. Aviv Goldbert of Soroka’ pediatrics B department.
They found that the rate of preterm birth was higher among newborns born at both short and long intervals. When examining long-term obstructive respiratory complications in infants, it was found that those born at a large interval of over five years were at increased risk (1.5 times) of this complication. It should be noted that another study of the team showed that long spacing was also found to be a risk factor for long-term neurological complications in neonates
Sheiner noted that “short intervals are considered a risk factor for pregnancy complications in the medical literature. Not everything is in our hands, but it is worth remembering that postponing the next birth to a gap of over 5 years is less recommended.”
He added that “the current study also shows that the interval between births is a risk factor for illness, and as always it seems worth choosing the middle way, not too close and not too far. Another important thing to remember, especially when thinking about a short interval, is taking folic acid [before and during pregnancy], which has been proven to reduce malformations in general and neural tube defects in particular.”
Goldbert added that “an interval of more than five years between pregnancies raises the risk of respiratory and neurological complications in infants.”