Child Spacing: What is Optimal?

The subject of family building can be an intimate, sometimes complex one. There is much to consider:  the how (especially for those contending with a history of infertility and/or pregnancy loss); the how many; and the how far apart. The how far apart has been on my mind lately, specifically as it relates to how sibling spacing might affect my health or the attachment my husband and I have been nurturing with our toddler.

I seem to recall stumbling across, at some point whilst poring through parenting lit during my pregnancy,  the recommendation for a sibling interval of 3 years. But couldn’t remember where I read this, nor why 3 years was supposedly so optimal. So, I set out recently to unearth the source and the support for this recommended interval.

I could not find any solid info on this supposedly ideal 3 year birth spacing or how it specifically relates to health or to attachment. In fact, I never really discovered a magic number. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that it is not really that simple. For some families, a subsequent pregnancy happens unexpectedly. For other families there is pointed pressure to begin attempting to further grow their family as soon as possible. As we all know, “ideal” can be tricky to define. And there is much that is outside of our control.

In exploring the health implications of birth spacing, I found recommended figures all over the place: 12 months or greater; 2 years; 3-5 years. But I found this research limited in its personal applicability and insight. Some researchers failed to control for behavioral risk factors such as smoking, substance abuse, and poverty, each of which can contribute to poor maternal and neonatal outcomes. Other research was conducted in developing nations with profound maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality rates.  Not exactly apples to apples, you know?

I didn’t really find any prescriptive birth spacing for optimal attachment either. None of the research I read felt exactly relevant to my family’s circumstances.  This Strollerderby post was an interesting take on the benefits of birth spacing. I found this post at the Attached Family to be an especially thoughtful take on sibling spacing and its effects on family dynamic, too. This Q&A also presented helpful considerations.

After all of my searching and contemplating, the real takeaway nugget of insight for me is this: my family, our needs, and our lifestyle are unique.Who knows our son better than my husband and me? Who knows our patience, energy levels, support system and financial wellness better than us?  We know our ourselves better than any researcher, better than any kind of attachment theory. Eventually we will know when our family is ready to add to the pack, and when that time arrives we will create our own “ideal.”

What do you consider ideal sibling spacing to be? How far apart are your children? You and your siblings? How has this affected your relationship with your parents and siblings?

photo credit: goldberg, Flickr Creative Commons

Rhianna is currently living her ideal in St. Louis with her handsome mate and their exuberant 17 month old son, whose current favorite library book is titled ‘Me & My Sister.’  After reading it, oh, about one hundred times in the last three days, they’re starting to wonder if he’s trying to tell them something.