What you have gained in “been there, done that” newborn knowledge may be balanced out by having an older child.
As you pack up another box of outgrown baby clothes or are greeted by a big kiss from your little one, your heart may tell you it’s a perfect time to try for a little brother or sister.
Sure, you still haven’t slept a solid night since your second trimester — but who wouldn’t want another dose of that incredible love you feel for your child?
Before breaking out the ovulation tests again, consider some of the ways your life will transform as you grow your family:
1. Think about what works for your family
If you plan to expand your family, you are in good company. According to data from Department of Health and Human Services, the average American mother welcome an average of 1.87 children. Although that current figure is the lowest it’s been since 1986, it still rounds up to a common two kids per family.
The big question for many families is just when is the time right.
Heather, a mom of two from Colorado, said she and her husband knew they wanted their kids to be between two and three years apart because those were the distances between them and their siblings. “We want the kids to be close enough so that they could play together when younger and be in high school together,” she said, adding her 20-month-old and 4-year-old are already good buddies.
But, for her, having two toddlers has proven challenging. “When the other child wants to do one thing and you have convince the second child to want to do the same,” she said, explaining she often plays referee between the two.
2. What will the age gap mean for your kids?
Whether your little one has just learned to walk or left diapers behind years ago, there are will be unique benefits and challenges to the age gap when a younger one comes along.
“The closer the ages, the more time siblings spend together,” explained Dr. Linda Sonna, author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Raising Siblings. She said a small age gap can make siblings better playmates, but can also create tension if the older one feels left out. “Excluding the older sibling impedes bonding and can trigger resentment,” Sonna said. “Instead of ‘alone time’ with the baby, have ‘family time’ whenever the older sib wants to join you.”
If your older child is past the toddling stage, they can be a great helper. “Some older children instantly take the new baby into their hearts and relate to it as a parent,” Sonna said. However, the potential downside is that an older child is used to life with your (mostly) undivided attention.
“Some are disappointed to discover that a newborn is not the playmate they had imagined,” Sonna said. “They may consider the new baby a nuisance who has destroyed the family routine, or an unwelcome intruder thief who has usurped parents’ time and attention.” She suggested easing the transition for your firstborn by praising their good work as an older brother or sister.
3. Remember pregnancy is hard work!
Maybe the more recent days of snuggling a sweet baby are fogging your memory, but bringing a child into the world is no easy task. Research indicates that “the length of time between giving birth to one baby and getting pregnant with the next should be 18 months or more,” according to an NPR report of a study in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Such spacing helps reduce the risk of complications such as preterm birth. Because every case is different, this is part of the conversation where you should definitely include your healthcare provider.
4. Consider: How is mama doing now?
What you will have gained in “been there, done that” pregnancy and newborn knowledge will be balanced out by the challenges of having an older child.
“It’s important for parents to assess their stress level,” Dr. Sonna said. “If they are having trouble coping with one child, it’s likely best to wait.”
On the other hand, Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It and mother to four children close in age, said it may be less of a shock to your system to have kids in similar stages of life. She explained, “Having them very close together means you’re still in that mindset, so it doesn’t bug you that you weren’t changed diapers for a year and now you are or that you got used to having completely uninterrupted sleep and now you’re back in that.”
5. Will it work with your work?
So, you handled the transition to motherhood while still working? Woo Hoo! But keep in mind, it may not be quite as easy with another baby around.
“A lot of women have more of an issue of continuing their careers after having the second baby than after having the first,” Vanderkam said. She explained there are a few reasons for that: Some women decide they would rather stay at home with the kids. The costs of daycare may start to outweigh salary. And it may be harder to maintain your footing in your career.
“You’ve probably just come back, not too long in the past, from building back up after your first baby,” she said. “So then, if you then go out with a second kid, it becomes even harder to establish your career capital, so a lot of people decide it’s not worth it.”
The good news is that it gets easier — financially and with your job — if your family expands beyond two kids. “The third kid is where you start getting the economies of scale,” Vanderkam said, citing statistics from the Department of Agriculture that shows the cost per additional child start to go way down after two children. She added that moms also tend to have the delicate balance of working and raising kids figured out by that point, too.
Lastly: Know it will work out
Remember when you were expecting your first and spent some sleepless worrying about how to diaper a baby? Then, just weeks later, you were able to do it half-asleep, one-handed and in the dark. Making the leap to your second child is the same: It may seem daunting now, but you will quickly adjust if and when that new addition arrives.
“A lot of people just overthink this way too much,” Vanderkam said. “Generations of women made it work because they had to make it work.”
After all, you’re a mama. You can do anything!