What are the potential implications of having babies close together like Rihanna?

The almighty Rihanna is pregnant again, her surprise announcement coming just nine months after the birth of her first child.

Swiftly following her performance at the Super Bowl Half Time show, her representatives confirmed she is expecting again.

The singer and beauty mogul, 34, and partner A$AP Rocky, welcomed their son on 13 May 2022, having revealed she was pregnant in January that year via photos of the pair together in New York.

With that in mind, it seems Rihanna’s babies could be born anything from one year to 18 months apart, depending on how long she’s been pregnant for, which hasn’t been disclosed yet.

Being a new mum, carrying another baby, and doing her first live performance in seven years… there’s definitely a lot going on for the star.

But what are the potential health implications of having babies close together, and what advice is there for those in the same situation? Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife and co-founder of My Expert Midwife, explains.

How could having babies close together affect your health?
While every woman is different, having just the one baby can have an impact both mentally and physically, so it’s no surprise that having two in quick succession can take even more of a toll.

“We know that pregnancy and birth have an inevitable impact on a woman’s body and emotional health,” says Gilchrist. “Her body, mind and emotions will be affected differently and therefore, will recover or adjust to a new reality with more or less ease, depending on her age, her physical and mental health before and during pregnancy, the type of birth she had, and what her experience of labour and birth was.

“The physical impact of pregnancy and birth on a woman’s body can go beyond what can be seen or measured.”

So, when having babies close together, there is of course even more to consider. Babies born within 12 months of each other were once referred to as ‘Irish twins’ – thankfully a phrase now less frequently used due to its derogatory and stereotypical origins – but the concept still piques much interest.

“Recent evidence indicates that an interval of six months between pregnancies carries a higher chance of preterm birth [born early] and having a baby that is small for gestational age [time between conception and birth] for women of all ages, and an increased chance of serious health complications for women who are over 35 years old,” says Gilchrist.

“Here, it is suggested that an interval of at least 12 to 18 months between pregnancies carries the least risk to women and their babies.”

While these are important factors to consider, it is down to the individual and her situation.

“With regards to her mental and emotional health, a woman would ideally feel supported by her family and healthcare providers, and already aware of her current demands and those that a new pregnancy and newborn baby would impose, before she decides how long to wait between pregnancies,” says Gilchrist.

“It is every woman’s individual choice how long she chooses to leave between pregnancies, yet it is important for her to be aware of the evidence so she can make an informed choice. Her healthcare providers will support her on her decisions and on her journey.”

What advice is there for mums having babies close together?
Women choosing to have their babies close together would, very likely, have considered a whole array of things beforehand, Gilchrist points out.

These include the basic but all-important practicalities. “From time off work, childcare arrangements/costs, and transport (car, prams, baby-carriers!), to sleeping arrangements, weaning, tandem feeding… these are all very applicable and important,” she says.

There are also aspects that can sometimes be overlooked, including the woman’s own emotional wellbeing – including time for self-care – and her physical health.

“Emotionally, she may need to de-brief from a previous traumatic birth experience, feel that she is supported through and managing her anxiety or depression, and feel safe discussing the demands of being pregnant and caring for a newborn whilst also caring for a young baby/toddler,” Gilchrist explains.

Women should also carefully consider how physically ready their body is for another child soon after.

“All situations and circumstances are unique, and some women may need longer or shorter to recover from or adjust to the process of having a baby,” Gilchrist adds. “Physically, she may need more or less time to recover from tears, an episiotomy [cut] or a C-section wound, or she may need physiotherapy input to strengthen her pelvic floor, resolve incontinence, alleviate hip/back pain, or rectify diastasis recti [when two muscles that run down the middle of your stomach separate during pregnancy].

“For women who birth their babies via Caesarean section, an interval of at least six months before their next pregnancy is recommended – although 12-18 months is thought to be optimal – to allow the wound to heal well.”

While the decision is of course yours, talk to your healthcare provider to make an informed decision about how safe it is for you and your family to have another baby soon after your last.