Mind the gap

Recently, more and more people have been casually mentioning/joking about the “Next One”.

Pip has only just turned 11 months old, but is bigger than most of his contemporaries, including many who are walking (he’s still 98th percentile for height) and I think my well-meaning commentators are starting to see him more as a toddler, i.e. old enough to be a big brother.

age gap

While understanding that conception is a miracle and we are incredibly fortunate to have been blessed with one child, it is fun to speculate about when the next one might arrive – if it does, of course. Just because we have little or no control over this doesn’t stop me wondering… it’s like being pregnant and fantasising about whether the bump is a boy or a girl.

Interestingly, it sounds as if there are potential physical disadvantages for mother and baby involved with both a smaller and larger gap between siblings, as described by a midwife writing for Babycentre. I can kind of understand why conceiving a baby soon after birth can take its toll on your own body and then in terms of the baby can lead to prematurity, a low birth weight and/or smaller size. However, according to some studies, the same risks reappear when there has been a gap of five years or more (my sister was born a month shy of five years after me, so that explains her superior height…)

Obviously there are zillions of exceptions to the warnings above, but it does seem that 2-3 years is the usual gap between siblings. In 2011 the Office of National Statistics stated that in this country the average was 33 months, or two years and nine months (as referenced by Bounty).

At least we know one thing for certain: despite my Celtic heritage, we will definitely not be having Irish twins. The physical impossibility of such a gap aside (breastfeeding being a highly effective method of contraception, which you can read about here), mentally I can’t even imagine being pregnant at any time in the last eleven months. The scary thing is, nine months isn’t even the minimum gap possible. The closest gap between siblings recorded in the UK was six and a half months, a brother and sister born to Sadie Budden a couple of years ago. As reported by the Daily Mail, they conceived their daughter immediately after their son and then she was born very early at 26 weeks (fortunately, after three and a half months in hospital she was able to come home on her due date, so this story does have a happy ending). The children are very cute but at the same time… no way!

So what about me? Well, I don’t feel emotionally or physically ready for another baby just yet. Plus, I’m really enjoying being with Pip and devoting all my attention to him at the moment. Looking after two young children requires huge amounts of energy, something which is gradually building in me again but at this point in time it simply wouldn’t be fair on either of them. That being said, pregnancy is a very long nine months which I’m sure would provide lots of time to prepare!

There are also financial considerations when thinking about a second child, and I saw an interesting article in Forbes detailing the pros and cons of different gaps. Some of it is less relevant to us, such as calculating college fees (although the way things are going here, that may be something to eventually factor in here as well) and as I’m not intending to return to the office I don’t need to worry about how my maternity leave can be utilised most efficiently. The costs to consider for us will be more in terms of baby items and potential sibling discounts at preschool and beyond. However, ultimately we are in the lucky position to not have to rush or delay a second child because of money.

We are planning for Pip to attend preschool, at either age 2 or 2.5 (September 2015 or January 2016, depending on where he gets in and how ready he is). So on one hand, this would be a natural bit of space to devote to a new baby. On the other hand, I would hate for Pip to feel like he is simultaneously being packed off to preschool and replaced with a smaller version of himself at home. Tricky!

There are numerous perceived advantages and disadvantages of the different gaps, many of which are described and referenced in great detail by the Alpha Parent here. Just a few of the gems she has unearthed are as follows:

  • The closer the age gap, the more creative your children are likely to be, regardless of gender (Baer et al).
  • This [two year] age gap has been shown to enhance the older child’s ability in maths and in reading (Notre Dame University).
  • [A sibling who is 4+ years older] is likely to be more gentle with the new arrival. Physical aggression in children is at its most frequent from ages two to four and gradually declines thereafter (Tremblay).

Unfortunately for my sister, the last one wasn’t true for me, which just goes to show that all this advice should be taken with an enormous pinch of salt!

It does make me smile is that with the exception of the rather smug woman who wrote the Forbes article (they decided to have another and hey presto, a sibling) we have such a lack of control over this that all the planning could be ultimately irrelevant. What I’m intending to do is research whichever gap happens, if and when it happens – there won’t be anything we can do about it except embrace the possibility of siblings, whether they are two or ten years apart. In the meantime, I will try and remember the advice of Babycentre:

There is no perfect gap that suits absolutely everyone. So it’s up to you and your family to decide when the time is right for you. And remember, however much you plan, babies don’t always turn up to order.

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