Waiting at least a year between giving birth and getting pregnant again can reduce health risks to mother and baby, a new study says.
But researchers add that it’s not necessary to wait as long as 18 months, as recommended in the current World Health Organization guidelines.
Research shows that small gaps in between pregnancies can help to reduce the likelihood of premature births, smaller babies, and infant and mother mortality.
Researchers hope that the findings will help to “reassure” older women in particular.
Senior study author Dr Wendy Norman said it was “encouraging news” for women over 35 who are planning their families.
She explained: “Older mothers for the first time have excellent evidence to guide the spacing of their children.
“Achieving that optimal one-year interval should be doable for many women and is clearly worthwhile to reduce complication risks.”
The Canadian study, by University of British Columbia, involved using data from 150,000 births and found that 12 to 18 months was the idea length of time between giving birth and becoming pregnant again.
The findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, also found that women over the age of 35 who conceived six months after a previous birth had a 1.2% risk of maternal mortality or harm but an 18 month gap reduced this risk to 0.5%.
Women under 35 were at an 8.5% risk of premature labour when they conceived six months after a previous birth.
This figure fell to 3.7% if they waited 18 months between pregnancies.
Laura Schummers, lead author of the study said: “Our study found increased risks to both mother and infant when pregnancies are closely spaced, including for women older than 35.
“The findings for older women are particularly important, as older women tend to more closely space their pregnancies and often do so intentionally.”