Many couples have an idea of how large they would like their family to grow, but many women ask, 'How long should I wait in between pregnancies?'
According to Salena Zanotti, M.D., a women's health physician at Cleveland Clinic, the answer can vary depending on the circumstances, but usually, it's best to wait at least one year.
"What a lot of the data shows is that it's ideal to wait a year between pregnancies," said Dr. Zanotti. "We do have a lot of evidence that if you wait less than six months between pregnancies there's a higher risk of pre-term delivery."
Dr. Zanotti said not giving the body a full year to recover from the rigors of pregnancy and delivery also puts a woman at higher risk of having a placental-abruption, a low birth weight baby, or possibly a baby born with an abnormality.
Other research has shown an association with a higher risk of a baby having autism if pregnancies are spaced too close together.
Also, Dr. Zanotti said when a woman's body feeds a baby in utero for 40 weeks and then breast-feeds her baby for up to a year afterwards, the body is depleted of several nutrients, which is why experts believe the body needs some time between pregnancies.
The World Health Organization (WHO) actually recommends waiting at least two years in between pregnancies for women who are under the age of 35.
Dr. Zanotti said women who have delivered a previous child via cesarean section need to let their scars completely heal to avoid a uterine rupture, or opening of the scar. For these women, waiting at least 18 months is beneficial.
She said the most important thing a woman can do before planning her next pregnancy is to visit her doctor and make sure she knows what her personal risk factors are.
"Before you plan your next pregnancy we recommend talking to your physician, and usually that's something that comes up at your post-partum visit because you want to talk about either preventing or planning for the next one," said Dr. Zanotti.
For couples who have suffered miscarriage, Dr. Zanotti said recent research has shown that they do not have to wait a standard amount of time to try again, but more importantly to wait until they are emotionally ready to try again.