Choosing when to start a family, or when to conceive your the next baby, has a major impact on the health of your child. Healthy birth timing and spacing there are two important to consider; the first is the age to conceive and time between pregnancies.
Over the last 30 years, a significant number of scientific studies that confirm that short birth spacing increases the risk of poor health for mother and child. The healthiest birth spacing from the birth of one child to the conception of the next is about 24 months. This can reduce the risk of complications such as miscarriages, stillbirths, pre-term births, birth defects and learning difficulties.
The advice for birth spacing after miscarriage or abortion is less clear. There was only one large-scale study on over 2.5 thousand women suggested that women should wait at least 6 months before attempting to conceive.
The reason for the effect of healthy birth spacing is unclear. Several studies have indicated acute maternal nutritional deficiency, e.g. folic acid, vitamin B12 and iron may be important. However, the level of most nutrients, except iron, return to their pre-pregnancy levels within three months.
What is the right age for a woman to conceive? USAID (2008) recommend that women should delay their first pregnancy until they are at least 18 years old.
A number of studies have found that there is an incremental increase the risks for mother and baby with increasing maternal age beyond 35 years. One of the latest studies looked at 36 thousand women and found the following maternal age-related risks:
What about the right age for a man to start a family? Men choosing to have children when they are older than 40 also carries risks for their babies. The problems associated with older fathers include the following: miscarriages, spontaneous abortion, genetic disorders, autistic spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, epilepsy, disabilities, and male infertility.
What is the advice for prospective parents? Prospective parents who should ensure that they are in good health before conceiving by following the advice on:
- Healthy time and birth spacing
- Treat pre-existing medical conditions
- Prevent and treat infections
- Avoid harmful toxins
- Foods to avoid
- Have a balanced diet of preconception
- What about special nutrients
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Pregnant women should consider following nutrition, physical activity and lifestyle to optimize their health during pregnancy. This should include advice to do the following:
- Have a healthy balanced diet during pregnancy
- Ensure they have optimum level of vitamins and minerals in her diet
- Avoid harmful toxins
- Avoid harmful foods
- Healthy weight gain during pregnancy
- Prevent and manage any conditions that develop during pregnancy