If thoughts of growing your family are making you feel broody, you may be considering the optimal timeframe for getting pregnant again. Is there a recommended age gap to have between children?
What is the best age gap between babies? According to JAMA pediatric studies and expert opinion, the optimal time to leave between pregnancies is 18-24 months to reduce the risk of medical complications and parental stress. This age gap may also result in a closer bond as siblings have greater relatability and shared interests.
Deciding on the interval between your children is a deeply personal choice at the end of the day, so to help you consider what’s best for your situation, find out what experts in the field have to say and consider the pros and cons of each age gap from 1 year to 5 years and over.
Best Age Gap Between Babies
The age gap between babies can’t be based solely on their imagined relationship – it should also consider your circumstances in terms of health and finances.
Ultimately, there are going to be pros and cons with any gap, so the choice should depend on what makes sense for your family.
What the Experts Recommend
For health reasons, the optimal gap between pregnancies is between 18 and 24 months apart.
“This reduces the risk of preterm and low birth weight babies, as well as complications during labor” according to pediatrician at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles Dr. Kyle Monk, M.D, and the director of perinatal services at Lincoln Medical Center, NYC Kecia Gaither, M.D.
As for age gaps, experts note that “a very different relationship can be observed in children 6 or more years apart,” but there is essentially no ideal spacing to be applied universally “as the decision is individualized to every family.”
As parents, your unique circumstances will also come into play.
Besides your preference for having children very close in age (to foster a close buddy relationship) or a larger gap (so older siblings can help out, babysit, etc.), your health, financial situation, and energy levels will also be big factors, not to mention your current work schedules, social life, and other commitments.
1-Year Age Gap – Pros & Cons
In this very short gap, your kids will face roughly the same milestones together, which could garner a close bond.
On the flip side, babies this close in age and dependence level will be quite the time suck for parents!
- The eldest is less likely to be phased by the newcomer – Your first baby will still be too young to process the concept of sibling rivalry (in the early years at least!), so this lack of acting out may give you some respite.
- They will share a closer emotional bond – They’re likely to love the same games, activities, TV shows, etc., and will relate to each other more.
- A more taxing pregnancy and birth – A shorter gap gives your body less time to recover, leaving you tired and depleted of iron and calcium during pregnancy, which could in turn increase the likelihood of complications.
- Harder to fully nurture parent-baby bond – While not impossible, it’s much harder to devote bonding time to each baby when your time and attention are constantly divided.
- Baby items can’t be handed down – Similar ages mean two cribs, two (or double) strollers, and their own clothes/gear.
2-Year Age Gap Between Babies – Pros & Cons
Personal circumstances aside, the experts consider this a happy medium since they are close enough to share similar interests while giving you (some) respite from their needs and better health outcomes.
- You’re a pro – By now, you know the drill when it comes to the basic aspects of their care, and no amount of baby brain fog will have erased the need-to-know parenting skills when you’ve done it on repeat!
- You’re healthier and more physically able – Experts cite a reduced risk of complications during pregnancy and birth by waiting two years (especially for mothers over 35) as your body has had time to bounce back.
- Sibling rivalry starts to rear its head – Your eldest is now a toddler and famously, they expect your undivided attention/affection/playtime, so this is when the green-eyed monster becomes more noticeable.
- Your eldest may start to regress – A new sibling can cause your eldest to fall back into babyish behaviors (thumb-sucking, potty-training setbacks, etc.).
- Expect a temporary whirlwind of chaos – A newborn in need and a toddler acting the diva 24/7 will mean there’s rarely a dull (or calm) moment in your home – for a short time at least!
3-Year Age Gap – Pros & Cons
Your eldest will have a lot more independence, making him/her easier to handle (on their good days) and leaving you more time to bond with your newborn.
- Things can feel less of an uphill struggle – Theoretically, your 3-year-old can feed him or herself, can dress/undress independently, is potty-trained, and is good at keeping him or herself occupied. Plus they’re not far off preschool age – adding up to more time and fewer responsibilities.
- Less risky pregnancy and labor – Again, the larger the gap, the better your body is able to cope with the demands of pregnancy and giving birth, leading to fewer age-related health risks.
- Sibling rivalry and regression are still an issue – Though your eldest may have a better understanding that the baby is smaller and more in need of help, they may still act out as they sense that you can’t be there for them in the same way.
4-Year Age Gap – Pros & Cons
After 4 years, sleepless nights and diaper changes seem like a distant memory, leaving you more eager for the challenge. The snag, of course, is that you may be a little rusty!
- You are no longer sweating the small stuff and have more time – Phases you once dreaded no longer loom large in your day-to-day parenting, and you can enjoy more one-on-one time with each child.
- Your eldest may be more mature and less of a handful – Physical aggression in toddlers is said to peak around age 3, so by age 4, your eldest is now a young child and less likely to feel jealous and insecure about a new arrival and is perhaps even willing to help out!
- You may need to revise the basics – After so long, some of the baby-care basics like swaddling and making formula may have become a tad blurry.
- Labor complications may be more common – Depending on your age and health, a longer gap may increase the risk of birth complications, particularly for women over 35.
5-Year Age Gap – Pros & Cons
By now, there’s so much time to devote to your little one and school-age child individually, though newborn demands may leave you drained for help with schoolwork and other matters.
- Your eldest can help and even teach your youngest – A beautiful sight with siblings in this age gap is when you observe your little one taking their learning cues from their big bro or sis. Your eldest will be able to teach them their first words, colors, shapes, etc. and give them tickles and cuddles too.
- Family activities may need to be split – You have tickets to the cutesy preschooler show that your newborn will adore, but your eldest will see this as a snooze-fest and prefer to see the latest blockbuster, so family night may be harder to plan!
Large Age Gap Between Siblings – Pros & Cons
A larger age gap may mean kids can’t relate as well to each other, but your eldest will certainly have a strong desire to look out for their younger sibling and become generally more helpful.
- Older kids can help with most aspects of a new arrival.
- You’ll enjoy more individual time with each child.
- Early parenting challenges can be weathered more easily.
- You may have sold/donated old baby gear/equipment.
- Some parenting skills may be quite rusty.
- Sibling jealousy/relatability may still be an issue.
Average Age Gap Between Siblings
According to findings from interpregnancy data published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average child spacing interval in the US is thought to be between 2 and 2 1/2 years.
It was also found that shorter age gaps are more common with less than 5% of births accounting for age gaps of 10 years or more.
Are Second Babies Easier?
According to the parenting site The Bump, parents can also feel that there is less time to stress about the little things and accept difficult phases due to busier schedules.
At What Age Can Siblings Help With Younger Kids?
Psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D, suggests “there’s no set age when kids are ready to babysit,” advising that parents should consider maturity level and sibling dynamics.
If they’re not yet ready to watch younger siblings, they can still help out by entertaining them on busy days, wiping up messes, etc.
Expert pediatricians tend to recommend a gap of 18-24 months between siblings though this is largely for health reasons such as a smoother pregnancy and labor.
As parents, where you go from this guideline is up to you.
Any age gap from 1 to over 5 years between babies can have its good and bad points, but hopefully, the above set of pros and cons for each scenario offers some food for thought where your circumstances are concerned.
Rebecca is a seasoned copywriter and researcher with over a decade of experience, specializing in parenting topics. With a passion for all aspects of raising children, from breastfeeding to potty training.