A Midwife Explains Whether It's Safe To Get Pregnant Soon After Giving Birth

Like Rihanna, plenty of parents end up with 2 under 2 – but is that safe for the body?
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Rihanna has revealed – in quite possibly the most Rihanna way – that she’s pregnant with her second child.

The singer and rapper A$AP Rocky welcomed a baby boy nine months ago, so spectators were more than a little surprised to see her rubbing what appeared to be a baby bump when she performed – from a floating stage, no less – at the 2023 Super Bowl.

While plenty of fans were delighted by the news, some people questioned whether it’s safe to get pregnant so swiftly after giving birth – especially as the body needs time to recover. But the answer isn’t a simple yes or no.

Everyone’s recovery from pregnancy and birth is different

Marie Louise, aka The Modern Midwife, says the recovery of the postpartum body is “very individual” – so while one mum might recover within a matter of weeks, another might take a lot longer to heal.

She offers the example that you might have a mum who is healthy, had a low risk pregnancy, had a normal birth without any interventions and minimal blood loss, and there are no further complications after the birth. Another mum, however, might have developed pregnancy-induced conditions and might go on to have a long labour with blood loss or require an emergency Caesarean section.

“That recovery period is going to look very different to the first example,” says Marie Louise, who is the author of The Modern Midwife’s Guide to Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond. “So it does really depend on what happens during the pregnancy and what happens during the birth.”

With any pregnancy-induced conditions that a woman develops like gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced hypertension, the midwife says “these things take time to reach homeostasis” – basically, for your body to go back to its non-pregnant state. And that can take anything from a few weeks to a few months.

There are many changes a person’s body goes through when they’re pregnant – organs move and displace, blood volume increases, the heart works harder to pump all that extra blood around, hormones shift, even the brain changes.

“We all go through tremendous transformation and changes in every single way possible – on a cellular level to a neurological level,” says Marie Louise.

“So it’s really important to bear all of that in mind when you’re looking at what recovery is for a woman. Because it can be emotional recovery from a difficult birth, or it can be more of a physical recovery from increased blood loss.”

When is safe to conceive again after having a baby?

In rather startling news, you can get pregnant as little as three weeks after the birth of a baby, even if you’re breastfeeding and your periods haven’t started again.

But guidance suggests parents should wait 18 months before trying to conceive again, in order to give the body time to heal after giving birth. According to NHS Inform, this is so there are less chance of complications and health issues during pregnancy, and a greater chance the next baby will be born a healthy weight and at full term.

A huge study of nearly 150,000 pregnancies in Canada found having babies less than a year apart can pose a risk to a mum and her baby. The authors concluded the best gap between pregnancies is 12 to 18 months.

Another study from Colombia found babies conceived within six months of a previous birth had a 40% increased risk of being born prematurely. Researchers suggested, according to New Scientist, that women who have not long given birth have temporarily diminished nutritional stores, which could impact the foetus.

However for some people, leaving a big gap between pregnancies isn’t a choice they can easily make. While some might accidentally fall pregnant soon after giving birth, others might actively choose to have babies close together because of their age or fertility struggles.

And while getting pregnant soon after birth isn’t necessarily “optimal”, Marie Louise advises there are things you can do to help your body through the process, such as: increasing oral fluid intake, making sure you eat nutritious food, considering iron supplementation, resting, doing some kind of gentle movement and practicing gentle pelvic floor exercises (as soon as you feel able to).

Health risks if you do become pregnant again soon after birth

One of the midwife’s biggest concerns for mothers who become pregnant again not long after giving birth is anaemia.

“If you’re entering into another pregnancy with anaemia, there are some risks associated [with that] such as premature birth, low birth weight, exhaustion, fatigue, and increased risk of bleeding more heavily during birth,” she says.

But those risks are generally mitigated because of the routine tests that are conducted in pregnancy, she adds. If blood tests pick up that a woman is anaemic, healthcare professionals will treat the issue. But if the anaemia goes untreated, it can increase the risks of adverse affects to mum and baby.

“Anaemia is a common one for women who have pregnancies close together so it’s really important ... to be mindful of your iron intake,” says Marie Louise.

She notes that iron levels are only typically checked a couple of times in pregnancy, so if you feel fatigued or weak, you should speak to your midwife.

Getting pregnant again can also weaken your pelvic floor at a time when it’s already pretty ropey. “It’s optimal to strengthen your pelvic floor before entering into another pregnancy,” says the midwife. “However, once that second or third baby is born, there’s no reason why you can’t restrengthen it after that birth.”

Rihanna performs during the 2023 Super Bowl.
Kevin Mazur via Getty Images
Rihanna performs during the 2023 Super Bowl.

While some studies have revealed adverse effects from getting pregnant soon after giving birth, a study by Curtin University in Australia called into question whether this is actually the case in more developed countries.

“We compared approximately 3 million births from 1.2 million women with at least three children and discovered the risk of adverse birth outcomes after an interpregnancy interval of less than six months was no greater than for those born after an 18-23 month interval,” said Dr Gizachew Tessema from the Curtin School of Population Health.

She suggested the advice on waiting to conceive after a previous birth may be unnecessarily long for mothers in high-income countries.

We need to ‘protect the body’ after birth and in pregnancy

The take home message is that “there’s not one rule that fits all,” says Marie Louise. “It’s important to be mindful of your body in the recovery period – and that as much as possible, we protect that recovery period.

“But if that’s not possible or that’s a choice a woman does not want to make ... we need to make sure we protect the body as much as possible: by preventing anaemia, managing anaemia, and ensuring she gets any additional tests that are required such as kidney function tests, liver function tests – so it’s really important she reports any abnormalities.”

If you have any concerns in pregnancy, you should speak to your midwife, especially if you’re feeling particularly tired or weak.

It’s also important, says Marie Louise, to not stress about having babies close together. “I would be more concerned that a mum would be scared and stressed during this pregnancy, than I would be worried about the close intervals between pregnancy,” she says. “So looking at stress levels is always important, but especially if you’ve got pregnancies close together.”

Her advice for mums is simple: “Go easy on yourself, build in as much support [from friends or family], keep your body in as best condition as possible, whatever that looks like for you – so if you enjoy exercising, try to keep up your exercise regime; if you just need to rest, let your body rest.

“Be guided by your body and report any concerns.”