We recently told you about farmers named John and Sam who grew carrots. John planted his carrots well apart but Sam crowded his together. He thought that the more seeds he sowed the more carrots he’d get. But Sam was wrong. Although his fields had more seedlings at the beginning of the season, by harvest time it was John who had more carrots. That’s because Sam’s carrots crowded each other out.
We told the story because we wanted to make the same point about children: they need growing room just like carrots do. In fact, children do best if parents wait at least two and a half years between pregnancies.
First, the youngest child does better if it is breast fed for at least two years. Breast milk protects infants from infection, disease and diarrhea. If a couple does get pregnant too soon, the last born child suffers because the mother stops breast feeding too early.
Also, waiting at least two and a half years between pregnancies means more babies will live. When experts studied birth intervals in the south Asian country of Bangladesh, they found that the more quickly the mother got pregnant again, the more likely the babies were to die. Or put another way, the more time that passed between pregnancies, the better chance the children had of living.
The longer birth interval means the babies are stronger at birth and they do better at each stage of their growing up. When they are 9 or 10, their teachers report that they are brighter than other children. It also stands to reason that, if a mother has only one baby to look after at a time, each baby will get the attention it needs.
To make this clear, let’s imagine Sam and John were growing children as well as carrots. Sam, the farmer who crowded his carrots together because he wanted more, persuades his wife, Grace, to have a baby every year.
Baby number one does well until it is five months old, when Sam’s wife becomes pregnant again. Suddenly Grace’s breast milk dries up. She may feel sick and may have a harder time caring for baby number one. Then baby number two is born and there is even less attention for baby number one. It needs help after all, it is only 14 months old but there is a newborn who needs even more help.
The same pattern is repeated year after year. Each newborn gets only five months of breast milk before Sam’s wife is pregnant again. The children are too young to take care of themselves, but they have to compete for attention with children who are just as dependent as they are. And their mother is always tired.
It’s a different story with John, the farmer that sowed his carrot seeds well apart so his crop would be healthy. When it comes to babies he and Anna, his wife, do the same thing. They wait until their first child is almost three years old before they try to have a second. By the time Anna is pregnant again, their first born has had lots of breastfeeding and undivided attention. Baby number two comes and is almost three years old before John and Anna try for baby number three.
Imagine them eight years after they began having children. John and his wife are very pleased. The first child is almost seven years old, the second child is three and a half and both are strong and healthy. Anna and the newborn are strong.
Sam and Grace can’t help but notice. Their own family is in terrible shape. Yes, they have had a baby every year, but eight years have passed and they do not have eight children. Two babies were stillborn and two pregnancies failed. Two other babies died in infancy. Only two children survive, and they are sickly.
“Maybe John and Anna have the right idea,” Sam’s wife says. “No way,” says Sam. “My mother had a baby every year, and look at our family. Okay, so maybe most of my brothers and sisters died, but I’m fine, aren’t I? And I have two sisters who lived to grow up. Anyway, John and his wife have three children, and we only have two. Let’s have another baby.”
Sam just can’t see that there is another way to go about having children, but we hope you can. Planning when you have children, waiting at least 2½ years between pregnancies, can mean that more of your children live.
This script was prepared by Katie Gillmor Ellis, Toronto, Canada.
This script was reviewed by the following people:
Dr. Helen Gordon, Waterloo, Canada
Dr. Ivan Roma, Toronto, Canada
Cecilia Blanco, Director of Publications, Profamilia, Bogotá, Colombia
Anne Tinker, Senior Health Specialist, World Bank, Washington, D.C., USA
When using this script please use names and crops that are common in your country.
The publication of this script was made possible through the generous support of the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada.
My name is today, David Morley and Hermione Lovel, 1986, Tropical Child Health Unit, Institute of Child Health, University of London, MacMillan Publishers.
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