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Birth gap link to premature babies


Women who have their babies less than a year apart are twice as likely to give birth prematurely, a new study suggests.

Around one in five mothers whose babies are born less than 12 months apart will give birth to their babies before they reach 39 weeks of pregnancy - also classed as a pre-term birth.

This compared to just 7.7% of mothers who wait for the “optimal” time of 18 months or more between children.

Babies born prematurely can suffer a range of problems - generally the earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of health issues.

The US study, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, examined 450,000 births from women who had two or more pregnancies during a six-year period in Ohio.

They found that mothers with “inter-pregnancy intervals” (IPI) of less than 18 months were more likely to give birth prior to 39 weeks of pregnancy than those who waited longer between children.

More than half of those who had an IPI of less than 12 months had their babies before 39 weeks compared with 37.5% of those who had an “optimal IPI”, the authors said.

They said that women should be counselled on the importance of “optimal birth space”.

“Short inter-pregnancy interval is a known risk factor for pre-term birth, however this new research shows that inadequate birth spacing is associated with shorter overall pregnancy duration,” said study co-author Emily DeFranco, assistant professor of maternal foetal medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio.

“This study has a potential clinical impact on reducing the overall rate of pre-term birth across the world through counselling women on the importance of adequate birth spacing, especially focusing on women know to be at inherently high risk for pre-term birth.”

Commenting on the research, Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “This study supports advice that midwives give to women about birth spacing. If women are to breastfeed for the recommended six months before introducing solid foods, they may delay ovulation and assist in birth spacing.

“Women need access to contraceptive advice to allow them to space their births. In the UK specialist family planning service provision is patchy with GPs frequently offering only oral contraception. Specialist services should be available for all women.”



Readers' comments (5)

  • This is somewhat misleading given that 39 weeks (and indeed 38 weeks) is not deemed to be preterm. That doesn't mean birth spacing isn't important for the health of women and babies but that the risk of preterm labour is misrepresented.

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  • I have to agree as it is quite possible that mothers with a toddler under a year are more likely to have a baby at 'early term' which is after 37 completed weeks pregnancy. It does not require research to understand why. However in my experience it is often first mums or those who have had a large gap who have a premature baby. Also twins are much more likely to be born preterm and they are often IVF babies who are born to first time mothers who are usually in mid to late twenties or older.

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  • If midwives are recommending breastfeeding as a means of 'birth spacing' I hope they are making it clear that particular requirements have to be met for it to be an effective contraceptive...

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  • Good grief I hope midwives aren't recommending breast feeding as a reliable contraceptive!

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  • Women take a whole year to recover from a normal delivery and if they breast fed there will be natural gap between babies, which gives her body and emotions time to recover. God made us and knows what is best for mums and babies

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