Congratulations, you’re pregnant with another child! You’re probably familiar with the myth that second babies come earlier than the first, and now wondering if you should expect an early arrival for your second birth.
The reality is there are no guarantees—because every baby and every birth is different. Your giving birth the second time may be completely different from your first, or it may follow a similar pattern. Each season of motherhood comes with its own experiences, challenges and rewards.
Do second babies come earlier?
It’s not always the case. A full-term pregnancy normally lasts between 39 weeks 0 days to 40 weeks 6 days from the first day of your last menstrual period, according to ACOG. But, based on anecdotal evidence, most pregnant people state that their second babies arrive earlier than the estimated due date, and often earlier than the first baby.
This is supported by a 2001 study investigating the duration of pregnancy in 1,514 healthy pregnant people. The researchers found that first-time mothers had a longer duration of pregnancy, while mothers who had given birth one or more times had their babies born two days earlier.
One study published in “The European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology” suggests that the second pregnancy is shorter and closer to 40 weeks than the first pregnancy. And, in 20% of study participants with a pregnancy gap of less than 12 months, the next pregnancy was one day shorter.
However, a recent 2022 survey on the length of pregnancy for first-, second- and third-time moms indicates that second babies arrive around the same time as the first, at 39 weeks and 5 days. This survey analyzed the experiences of 2,437 second-time moms, and about 56.2% had their babies on or before the due date.
Hence, the available statistics imply that there are no hard and fast rules. Second babies may arrive earlier or just on time. Every pregnancy is different.
Is labor faster the second time around?
Yes, your second labor is usually half as long as the first. You can expect labor to last 12 to 18 hours on average for your first pregnancy, while averaging just 6 to 8 hours for the second pregnancy.
That’s partly because for your first baby, it may take 8 to 12 hours for your cervix to dilate (open wider for the baby’s head to fit through) but only about 5 hours the second time around.
And, the actual pushing is shorter for your second baby. You likely won’t have to push for 1 to 2 hours. This is mostly because the tissues in your pelvis have been stretched once before and are not as tight as they were originally. Plus, you already know what to expect, so you’ll step more confidently into your second labor.
If you had complications with your first pregnancy, are you likely to experience the same problems when pregnant with your second baby?
If your first pregnancy involved complications such as preterm birth, preeclampsia or gestational diabetes—it is important to work closely with your doctor, as you may be at an increased risk of experiencing similar complications with your second baby.
One study suggests that for pregnant people who developed preeclampsia during the first pregnancy, the risk of developing preeclampsia in their second pregnancy increased to 14.7%. But in people with no history of preeclampsia with their first baby, the likelihood of developing preeclampsia the second time around was very low, about 1.1%.
If your first baby was born premature, that is, between 22 to 30 weeks, you’re at least 20 times at an increased risk of having your second baby delivered prematurely.
How long should you wait before getting pregnant with your second baby?
If you just had your first baby, experts recommend waiting 18 months before getting pregnant for the second baby. This protects your future baby from potential health problems such as premature birth, being small for gestational age and having a low birthweight.
For you, longer child spacing also gives your body enough time to recover from the first pregnancy experience and replace lost nutrient stores of folic acid and iron.
Preparing for your second baby
With your first pregnancy, you likely had plenty of time to prepare for the new member of the family. It will probably not be the same the second time because you’ll be trying to meet your toddler’s needs while pregnant.
When the baby arrives, prepare yourself for that overwhelming rollercoaster of emotions—it may feel like you’re missing out on being with your first while you care for the newborn. It’s normal because now you’ve two babies with different needs. Be patient with yourself while you adjust to the new development.
3 tips on how to prepare for your second baby
- Prepare your firstborn before the baby arrives, and try to get them excited about having a sibling.
- Remember that your first still needs a lot from you. It’s tough when you have a baby who’s completely dependent on you, but try to prioritize some one-on-one time, so they don’t feel short-changed.
- Ask for help from family and friends when you need it, especially when you need to rest and recharge.
Transitioning from one baby to welcoming another into the family can be challenging. Don’t forget to give yourself some grace. And know that the transition will get smoother with time.
- Hernández-Díaz S, Toh S, Cnattingius S. Risk of pre-eclampsia in first and subsequent pregnancies: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2009;338:b2255. Published 2009 Jun 18. doi:10.1136/bmj.b2255
- Ng KY, Steer PJ. Prediction of an estimated delivery date should take into account both the length of a previous pregnancy and the interpregnancy interval. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2016;201:101-107. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2016.03.045
- Smith G, Use of time to event analysis to estimate the normal duration of human pregnancy. Human Reproduction. July 2001, 16(7)1497–1500. doi:0.1093/humrep/16.7.1497
- Pereira E, Tessema G, Gissler M, Regan AK, Pereira G. Re-evaluation of gestational age as a predictor for subsequent preterm birth. PLoS One. 2021;16(1):e0245935. Published 2021 Jan 22. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0245935