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Baby Spacing: Many Women Don't Wait Long Enough Between Pregnancies

How long should you wait between births? A new report says many women don't wait long enough.

Health experts advise women to wait at least 18 months between pregnancies. But research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 30 percent of women who've given birth were pregnant again within 18 months.

The report is based on 2011 birth certificates in 36 states, including Utah, and the District of Columbia, representing about 83 percent of births in the U.S. that year. Around 31 percent of Utah moms, just slightly higher than the national average, don't wait the recommended time to get pregnant again.

"Waiting 18 months before you get pregnant again allows time for your body to heal and reduces your risk of pregnancy complications," says Erin Clark, MD, an OB/GYN at University of Utah Health. Age and a history of infertility are also critical factors women should consider when deciding how long to wait to have another baby.

Clark says shorter birth intervals increase the risk for pregnancy complications such as preterm birth and low birth weight. Preterm birth, or birth before 37 weeks, is serious. It is associated with a higher chance of death and serious long-term problems such as blindness, lung issues and developmental delay.

Other factors such as smoking have also been linked to preterm birth, but in many cases doctors don't know why some babies are born early. One factor within a woman's control is the time she waits to have another baby.

Clark says it is particularly important for women who experienced a complicated pregnancy or birth to wait at least 18 months to conceive again. "For women with a history of pregnancy complications, the risk for the next pregnancy is higher if the births are close together," she says. "You can increase your chances of having a baby closer to term if you carefully plan birth spacing and aim for at least 18 months between birth and your next pregnancy."