by Alan Greene, MD, FAAP
If your first baby isn't very old, it is only natural to be concerned about what other people will think when you tell them your good news -- particularly those that are closest to you. I am afraid that some of them will not approve of your decision to move so quickly to conceive a second time.
Keep in mind, though, that throughout most of history effective birth control was not an option. As a result, multiple, back-to-back pregnancies were common. It was only in the twentieth century that people have begun experimenting with smaller families and longer intervals between births on a large scale.
There is no "right time" for a second pregnancy; many factors need to be considered when deciding to try again. These include the age of the mother, her health, the emotional status of each family member, and the financial well being of the family. If a woman is in the later part of her child bearing years, it is not unusual for an obstetrician to recommend that a couple start trying to conceive when their first child is 6 months old. On the other hand, if the mother is in her early twenties and it is more convenient for the family to wait, there are distinct advantages to waiting. In my opinion, any time an expectant mother and father are both excited about a second pregnancy is a good time.
Now let's look at it from your son's perspective. All his life, he has been the apple of your eye. When he has had a need, you've been there for him. There has been no competition for your affection, time, or attention. Now that will all change.
Consider this scenario -- your husband comes home one night and says, "Darling, I love you! I delight in you! I enjoy you! In fact this is so good that I have decided (without consulting you) to get a second wife for the family. She will be younger, cuter (at least all our friends will make a fuss over her the first few times they meet her), and she will require special attention to make her feel welcome in the family.
When she comes, you will need to be very mature because I will need to hold her a lot, she will sit in your chair, and she will sleep in your bed (don't be upset though, I'll get you a bigger chair and bed). She's going to be such a nice addition to our family! I know you'll love having a younger wife around. I'm really counting on you to help me take care of her! And you'll be so good at it!"
Any way you look it, this poses a serious threat.
This does not mean that I think it is better for your son to be an only child. Sibling relationships are very important. Your son will most likely know his siblings for a longer period of time than his parents, his spouse, or his children. He will share common cultural values, family traditions, and childhood memories with them. Through his relationship with his siblings, he will learn to communicate effectively, to negotiate when possible, and to share when necessary. He will have peers who are constant, which is a very real need in today's transient societies.
As parents, it is only natural to want to continue to give your first child all the attention you have been giving him, plus give your new baby the special attention you gave to your first child. That is not possible.
You need to realize that after your second child is born, you will not have the time or energy to give your son the same amount of attention you give him now. To make matters worse, you will never be able to give your second child as much attention as you gave your first child.
The plot thickens from here -- you and your husband will not have as much time or energy to give to each other as you have had with one child. As a family, you will be stretched in many new ways! Here are a few tips on how you can work together:
- Understand that at fifteen months old, your son will not be ready to give up being a baby in order to take on the big brother role. He will still need to be treated like a fifteen-month-old.
- Although you might be able to get away with graduating your son into a big boy bed, chair, etc., it is well worth the investment to get a second set of furniture for the new baby. Your first son will then be able to graduate into big-boy furniture when he naturally would have.
- Be flexible! You won't be able to have things the way you like them as much of the time as you currently do. Your house may be messy for the next few years, and you may not be able to take on as many projects you currently do. That will ease up after a few years.
- Make it a priority to take pictures of each family member and of the family doing things together. It is important for the kids as they grow up to have memories of doing things with their parents -- pictures help to cement the memories in their minds.
- If possible, take lots of videos and include narration. (You probably won't have time to create extensive baby books for both children, but if you take videos at the same time you shoot still pictures, you can use the narration with your videos to go back and reconstruct baby books at a later date if you wish to.)
- Learn to anticipate needs. Don't wait for your children to let you know they need their diapers changed or that they are hungry. Plan ahead whenever possible, especially on outings.
- Constantly assess each family member's needs and make adjustments. Your son will quickly learn to misbehave if that is the only way he can get you to notice him. Don't wait for someone to fall apart before you give him your attention.
Having children close together in age can be very trying during their early years. As they grow up, you will no longer feel the stress of diaper changes, nighttime feedings, and round-the-clock care.
As young children they will have the advantage of having built-in playmates. When they are school age, they will be interested in similar activities and friends (this, of course, with lots of room for individuality). As a result, siblings who are very close in age tend to be close to each other throughout life.
Dr. Alan Greene, author of Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Greene, is the founder of Dr.Greene.com and the WhiteOut Movement. He is a frequent guest on such shows as Good Morning America, The Today Show, and the Dr. Oz Show. He is on the Board of Directors of Healthy Child Healthy World and The Lunchbox Project. Dr. Greene is a practicing pediatrician at Stanford University's Packard Children's Hospital.
Copyright © Greene Ink, Inc., all rights reserved. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org. Reviewed by Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin M.D. & Rebecca Hicks M.D. June 21, 2008.