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Friday, 17 November, 2000, 00:27 GMT
Pregnancy gap 'determines health risk'
Pregnant woman
Long and short gaps between pregnancies 'increase risk'
The risk of pregnancy complications is linked to the length of time women wait between babies, researchers suggest.

Scientists found that short and long term gaps between pregnancies can harm women.

They found women with gaps between pregnancies of less than six months or longer than 59 months are at increased risk of complications during pregnancy.

Women should be advised of the potential harm to them and their infants of short and long intervals between pregnancies

Dr Agustin Conde-Agudelo, Pan American Health Organisation
However, the research was carried out in developing countries, and the findings may not apply to other populations.

Researchers for the Pan American Health Organisation in Uruguay examined the effects of the length of time between pregnancies for over 400,000 women in Latin America and the Caribbean.

They found that the safest gap between pregnancies was 18 to 23 months.

Women who waited less than six months between pregnancies were two-and-a-half times more likely to die than this group.

They also had a 70% increased risk of bleeding during the later stages of pregnancy and premature rupture of membranes, and a 30% increased risk of infection and anaemia.

Women who waited more than 59 months between pregnancies were more likely to develop the potentially fatal conditions pre-eclampsia and eclampsia.

Reasons unclear

Although the reasons for these findings are unclear, the authors suggest that short intervals between pregnancies do not allow the mother to recover from the physical stresses imposed by the previous pregnancy.

Social factors may also be partly to blame, with women who have shorter gaps more likely to be younger and having the least pre-natal care.

Conversely, the "protective" effect for pre-eclampsia acquired by a woman through a previous birth is lost after a long interval, they add.

Lead researcher Dr Agustin Conde-Agudelo told BBC News Online: "Although our study was carried out in developing countries and its findings may not be applicable to other populations, I think that women from developed countries should be advised of the potential harm to them and their infants of short and long intervals between pregnancies."

A spokewoman for the Family Planning Association said it would be wrong to generalise for all women.

She said the best strategy was for a woman to ensure that she was in the best possible health before attempting to get pregnant - and the time between pregnancies would depend on the individual circumstances of each woman.

"We would suggest talking things through with a midwife, they are in the best position to offer advice."

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See also:

05 Nov 00 | Health
Calcium vital during pregnancy
08 Sep 00 | Health
Pregnancy stress 'causes defects'
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