What is the best age gap between siblings? We look at (perceived) positive and negative aspects of age differences between children. Find out about sibling spacing here.
When it comes to sibling spacing, there aren't any hard and fast rules about what makes the best age gap between children. This is probably reassuring as you can’t predict the spacing between your children with confidence anyway and it’s also impossible to predict the effect of any age gap on you and your family.
Here we provide information from different studies about sibling age gaps so you can consider what might suit you and your family best. It's important to say the different aspects of age gaps discussed in this article may be thought of as positives by some parents, and negatives by others. None of them will apply to everyone because your family will have its own unique characteristics that may well have a far greater effect than the age gap between your kids. The concept of an ideal age gap between children is highly subjective.
Small gap (under two years)
Having a very small gap between your children means you get through the most tiring times of pregnancy and the early years in a short space of time. This, however, does appear to increase the risks of complications in labour and birth, including a rise in pre-term birth.
It can also be tiring looking after a toddler when you’re pregnant; your own calcium and iron stores may be low from your previous pregnancy.
One advantage is that your children are more likely to play together when still quite young though toddlers may show jealousy and resentment of a new baby.
If you’re working, you’ll have a period of maternity leave while your first child is still young, so you can enjoy more time with them (depending on any childcare arrangements you have in place). Some women might also prefer to have different periods of maternity leave over a shorter space of time.
You may need extra baby equipment rather than being able to use hand-me-downs, as with two young children you will probably need two sets of the same equipment at the same time, such as cots or first-size car seats. You might also need to think about a double buggy.
Holidays and other activities may be easier to plan though as your children will be able to enjoy similar activities.
Medium gap (two to four years)
Your body will have had time to get back to normal after pregnancy, labour and birth, and you will be mostly up-to-date with your knowledge about vaccination schedules, local activities and services.
You will be able to re-use baby equipment your first child no longer needs.
This is also the most common age gap so, in your friendship group, each of your children may have their own appropriate-age friend. Your children may, however, be school age before they can play together for long periods of time.
Longer gap (over four years)
You may have to refresh your knowledge about looking after a newborn, as well as information about local services and activities. You can focus on your newborn as your older child will be at school. This also means you’re spreading out the time when you’ll be busy and tired with young children.
Very long gaps – over five years – are associated with pregnancy and birth problems (not just because of the likelihood of increased maternal age).
Differing interests and development may mean it’s difficult for your children to be close until they are much older.
Your younger child may enjoy admiring their stronger, older sibling and your older child may enjoy the role of ‘protector’. Older children may also have learnt more patience and understanding, and jealousy may be less of an issue.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
We also provide Refresher antenatal courses for those parents who have already had at least one baby. They offer a chance to reflect and build on past birth experiences and prepare yourself for looking after your new baby.
Coping with Two: A Stress-free Guide to Managing a New Baby When You Have Another Child by Simon Cave and Caroline Fertleman
Preventing Sibling Rivalry: Six Strategies to Build a Jealousy-Free Home by Sybil Hart
Birth Spacing and Sibling Outcomes by Kasey S. Buckles and Elizabeth L. Munnich, University of Notre Dame
Birth spacing literature: maternal and child nutrition outcomes by Kathryn G. Dewey and Roberta J. Cohen, Program in International Nutrition, University of California, Davis, September 2004