For any of you who have competed in a long-distance competition (be it a run, a swim, a hike, or a bike), you know what it feels like to cross that finish line. Total euphoria—combined with a fair amount of exhaustion, pain, and lots of blisters! The first thought that runs through your head, after the “I can’t believe I actually made it” moment is either “When can I do it again?” or “I am NEVER doing that again!”
The first group is already planning their next race, mapping out their training schedule, and thinking about how they could have done it better. While the “Okay, I can check that off my bucket list group” is looking for the nearest bar, a bath, and a bed. In many ways, pregnancy, labor, and having a newborn is very similar to the training and racing of a long-distance competition.
While the “Yes, let’s do it again” and the “No, I am so out” camps in pregnancy and parenthood are more fluid than the participants in long-distance competitions, (hard-core Group B members may move into Group A), people usually have a pretty set idea about how many times they want to be pregnant, how many times they want to give birth, and how many children they want.
Most of us even have a pretty good idea about how close together we want our kids to be (medically termed birth spacing). Whether you want them back-to-back or you prefer to space them apart is a personal decision. But how soon you can hop back on the baby machine is dependent on more than just your feeling ready. It also depends on factors out of your control such as if you had a C-Section or a vaginal delivery, if issues like high blood pressure or diabetes complicated your pregnancy, and if you required any additional procedures post-delivery. These all can hold you up even if your heart is ready to race again.
Regardless of what went down during your pregnancy, the time between delivery and a pregnancy should be AT LEAST 18 months. Any shorter inter-pregnancy interval can increase the chance of preterm delivery, premature placental separation (placental abruption), pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy), placenta previa (particularly after a C-Section), low birth-weight babies, and autism.
While the definitive reason behind why these events occur more frequently is debatable, fingers seem to point towards the “maternal depletion hypothesis.” Pregnancy and the stressors of a newborn takes a lot out of you, and your body needs time to re-fuel and re-energize before it starts the race again. Stressing the system before it is ready to function can interfere with its ability to do its job well.
Among the organs in the body that need a break, the uterus is at the top of that list, especially after a C-Section. The uterus is a muscle, and a muscle that is injured (particularly cut and sewn back together) needs to heal. Without adequate time to heal, there is a higher chance that it will open (a.k.a. rupture which is life threatening to you and the baby) in the subsequent delivery. Furthermore, women who had a C-Section and want to try for a vaginal delivery in their next pregnancy (vaginal birth after cesarean section=VBAC) need extra-extra time to rest their uterus before it is pushed to push.
You don’t have to decide which group you are going to side with moments after crossing the pregnancy finish line (#delivery). Labor can be long and exhausting. Give it some time before you wave the “Yes, I want another baby” or “No way; I am done” flags. Even if you are raring to go moments after the race is over, give it time before you line up at the next start line. Hydrate, stretch, rest—do whatever it takes to get you ready to go again. The time off will do you good—and your next pregnancy.