It's best to wait at least 18 months (1½ years) between giving birth and getting pregnant again.
Too little time between pregnancies increases your risk of premature birth. The shorter the time between pregnancies, the higher the risk.
Premature babies are more likely to have health problems than babies born on time.
Your body needs time to fully recover from your last pregnancy before it’s ready for your next pregnancy.
Use birth control until you’re ready to get pregnant again. Examples of birth control include IUDs, implants, the pill and condoms.
For most women, how long should you wait before getting pregnant again?
For most women, it’s best to wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again. This means your baby will be at least 1½ years old before you get pregnant with another baby. This much time gives your body time to fully recover from your last pregnancy before it’s ready for your next pregnancy.
The time between giving birth and getting pregnant again is called birth spacing, pregnancy spacing and interpregnancy interval (also called IPI).
Why is it important to wait 18 months before getting pregnant again?
Getting pregnant again before 18 months increases the risk for certain health problems for your baby, including:
- Premature birth. This means your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, which is too soon. Premature babies are more likely to have health problems and have to stay in the hospital longer than babies born on time. The shorter the time between pregnancies, the higher your risk for premature birth.
- Low birthweight. This is when your baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
- Being small for gestational age (also called SGA). This means your baby is smaller than normal based on the number of weeks you’ve been pregnant.
Babies born with these health conditions are at higher risk of having long-term health problems or even death.
What can you do to help you get the right amount of time between pregnancies?
Here’s what you can do:
- Wait at least 18 months after having a baby before getting pregnant again. Give your body this time to recover from your last pregnancy before you get pregnant again.
- Use effective birth control (also called contraception or family planning) until you’re ready to get pregnant again. Birth control helps keep you from getting pregnant. Examples of birth control include intrauterine devices (also called IUDs), implants, the pill and condoms. Other than abstinence (not having sex), IUDs and implants are the most effective kinds of birth control. They work well at preventing pregnancy because they’re low maintenance. This means that once you get them from your provider, they work for a long time (up to several years) and you don’t have to worry about or remember how or when to use them. Once you have an IUD or implant, you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant until you have it removed. Talk to your provider to see if an IUD or implant is right for you.
- If you’re pregnant, talk to your provider before you give birth about getting an IUD or implant right after you have your baby. If you don’t get an IUD or implant right after giving birth, talk to your provider about getting one at your postpartum checkup. This is a medical checkup you get about 6 weeks after you have your baby.
- If you’re older than 35 or have had a miscarriage or stillbirth, talk to your provider about how long to wait between pregnancies. Waiting 18 months may not be right for you. A miscarriage is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy. A stillbirth is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
How does getting pregnant again too soon increase your chances for premature birth?
Experts don’t know for sure why getting pregnant again too soon increases your chances of premature birth and other health problems for your baby. It may be because your body needs time to:
- Build up its supply of nutrients, like folic acid. Nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, help your body stay strong and healthy. If your body doesn’t have enough nutrients and you get pregnant again too soon, it may cause health problems for you or your baby. For example, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, your baby gets nutrients from your body. After having a baby, your body may not have enough of certain nutrients, like folic acid. Folic acid is a vitamin that every cell in your body needs for normal growth and development. If you take it before you get pregnant, it can help reduce your baby’s chances of having birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (also called NTDs). If you get pregnant again too soon and your folic acid levels are low, your next baby is more likely to be born prematurely, with low birthweight or with NTDs.
- Heal from infection and inflammation. Infection during pregnancy can lead to inflammation (redness and swelling) in parts of your body, like the uterus (womb). If you have a condition like endometritis (inflammation of the lining of the uterus) during pregnancy and get pregnant again before your body has fully healed, you may have the condition again in your next pregnancy. Inflammation may play a role in preterm premature rupture of membranes (also called PPROM). PPROM is when the sac (bag of waters) around the baby breaks before 37 weeks pregnancy, causing labor to start. PPROM can cause premature birth.
- Reset the microbiome of the vagina (birth canal). The microbiome is a group of microorganisms. Microorganisms (like bacteria) are living things that are so small you need a microscope to see them. Some experts think the microbiome in a woman’s vagina (called the vaginal microbiome) may play a role in premature birth. For example, having an infection called bacterial vaginosis affects the vaginal microbiome and can increase your chances of having a premature baby. Also, the vaginal microbiome of women who had a premature baby may be different than that of women who had a baby after 37 weeks of pregnancy. And it may take time—even a year—for the vaginal microbiome to go back to how it was before pregnancy. So getting pregnant again too soon may cause problems in your next pregnancy, like premature birth. The March of Dimes supports research to learn more about the vaginal microbiome and premature birth.
Download our English and Spanish health action sheets on birth spacing.
Last reviewed: July, 2017