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No one can answer that question but you, and there's a lot to consider. This decision involves a lot of thought, such as planning when to stop using birth control, determining how much time to take off work, and figuring out if you can still afford childcare.
Some say deciding to have a second child is even harder than deciding whether to have a first because you're not just talking about having a baby – you're talking about changing a family dynamic.
With each new child, you have to think about how that baby will affect your lifestyle, finances, work, relationships, and, of course, your other kids. And if you listen to what other parents say, expanding your family by one could more than double your workload.
Of course, just about everyone – from doctors and scientists to your friends and neighbors – has an opinion on baby timing and the ideal family size. Weigh the pros and cons and then make your own decision.
Here are some things to consider before you welcome a new baby into your life.
When is the best time to have another child?
Some couples prefer to wait at least several years. That way, your other kids get plenty of individual attention from you and are old enough to comprehend how another child will change things. Others see a benefit to having children close together so they can be playmates – and so you won't be raising small children for years and years.
Here's what some our site moms have to say:
- "My two boys are three and a half years apart, and I think that spacing is great," says Susan, an executive at a publishing company. "Since my older son was out of diapers by the time the younger one was born, I could fall in love with the idea of having a baby again. And they're clearly in different social and developmental arenas, so I don't see a lot of sibling rivalry. They really enjoy each other."
- "My three oldest children are about a year and a half apart, and though it was tough when they were all babies, in many ways it was great," says Barbara, a geriatric therapist. "They really amused each other and have stayed very close. I'm one of four children myself, and I really wanted to recreate that big family feeling."
- "My first two are three and a half years apart. That gave me time with the firstborn alone," says Janet, an advertising copywriter who is pregnant with her third child. "I think the older the child the better because they're that much more independent and can mentally and emotionally handle the baby.
- "In some ways, I wish there was a bigger age gap between my second child and the new baby – they're only two years apart. I'm dreading having two in diapers at the same time. And I'm worried about the physical challenge of having two who need so much time."
How many kids should you have? See what other parents think.
What does the research say?
In terms of the children's relationships with their parents, sibling rivalry, and their own self-esteem, Jeannie Kidwell, a former professor of family studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, says the best time to have another baby is either when your first is younger than 1 or older than 4. Babies who aren't yet 1 don't have a sense of their exclusive status, so they're less apt to resent a newcomer, she says. And children older than 4 have had time to enjoy attention from Mommy and Daddy – plus, they're now involved in activities of their own.
When it comes to the health of your baby, waiting two or three years before you get pregnant again may tip the odds somewhat in your baby's favor.
Studies suggest that getting pregnant within 18 months after your first child is born can make it more likely that your second child will be born early, underweight, or smaller than usual for the number of months he was in the womb.
Research also suggests that if you get pregnant within 12 months of giving birth, you may be at higher risk of placental abruption and, if you previously had a c-section, placenta previa.
If all this sounds confusing, let's put it in perspective. Researchers don't know for sure why waiting a short time between pregnancies raises certain risks, but they have some ideas.
One is that the mother's body needs time to replenish vitamins and nutrients before giving birth again. So whether you're pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or want to wait, see your doctor early to get the right care and advice, eat a balanced diet, take prenatal vitamins with folic acid, and keep your body as healthy as you can.
So waiting longer is the way to go, right? Maybe.
It turns out that waiting more than five years to have your second child is also less than ideal. Some studies show that low birth weight, preterm birth, and smaller size are more likely in babies whose moms let five years or more pass before they get pregnant, and the mothers are at higher risk of developing preeclampsia
What else should I consider when making the decision?
Science doesn't dictate all the choices we make, of course, so here are some other issues to take into account:
Are you settled into a nice routine with your other children? Do you have a good childcare system set up? Is everyone else finally sleeping through the night? Perhaps you've gotten to the point where you and your partner have time for each other again. Maybe you've gone back to work and you love it.
These are all important factors when you're thinking of having another. Remember, a newborn will take over your life. Consider whether you have the time and energy an infant requires, and whether your children are ready to deal with the reality of a baby in the house.
Your financial situation
Money isn't everything, but it certainly helps when you're raising a family. According to the latest government estimates, it can cost more than $10,000 a year to feed, clothe, house, and keep a child healthy. (And that's a conservative number for many parts of the country.) It's a good idea to have room in your monthly budget before you conceive another child.
Consider your work situation too. Many women find it harder to keep up with full- or part-time work once the second or third child comes along. Can you afford to quit work if that seems best or to pay for the new baby's childcare if you keep your job?
"My daughter is almost 4, and we haven't had another yet because we're worried about affording everything," says Stephanie, a college lecturer. "We didn't have much money when we had our first, so we know what it's like not to have the resources to pay for things. That's why we want to be better prepared for the next one. Money is a huge consideration because of childcare costs."
"The other big thing is career. I stayed with my daughter her whole first year. I would like to do that with the second child too. We want another – we're just not sure when. It already feels a little late to me."
Unfortunately, parental age matters, especially for women. If you're 38 and you want two more children, you probably don't have the luxury of spacing them three years apart. But if you're younger than 30 and don't have any health problems that could make conception difficult, you can be a little more flexible. (Learn more about your chances of getting pregnant at different ages.)
Talk about the age question with your partner: Many people have a vision of how old they want to be when they're finished having children.
Do you and your partner agree? Sometimes one partner is ready and the other isn't. It's hard to be in sync all the time. This can be a tricky one to settle, but the first step is to start talking about your differences.
Sit down together and discuss your points of view. You may not resolve anything right away, but you'll have a better understanding of the issues. It might help to talk to others in this situation.
Sure, you can sit down with a big legal pad and run through the pluses and minuses. But this is one of those decisions that's led by the heart, so go ahead and listen to yours. If you want another baby, and your partner does too, there may be no time like the present.
Join the conversation
Visit these groups in the our site Community to share stories and get advice:
- Large Families
- Parents of Only Children