Let’s admit it: people love reality TV. I admit that my guilty pleasure is curling up on the couch and tucking in to some wonderfully bad TV. One show in particular that has caught my eye chronicles the lives of a family that has taken the “go forth and multiply” commandment very much to heart. You have probably seen at least one episode—it is somewhat disturbing, fascinating and inspiring all at the same time.

Everyone I have told about my choice of reality TV has had a very strong opinion about it. Some find it amazing that the family is so close and genuinely seem to adore each other, while others think the entire show is scripted. When it comes to their ever-expanding brood, the opinions are equally as intense. It seems that everyone is concerned about the TV parents’ ability to financially support the family. Viewers wonder if they are continuing to have children, so they can keep collecting paychecks from the cable network. What nobody seems to be thinking about is the impact that having this many children—several of which are a year to a year and a half apart in age—is having on the body of the mother. She seems healthy, but it has made me consider the risks for women who choose to have several children, especially if they are close together.

While in our country the average number of children each woman bears is about two and a half, in other parts of the world it is much more common for a woman to have seven or eight children. Often these children are delivered very close together. Many mothers reproduce like this because of their religious beliefs, while others think it will be easier for them and their children if they are close in age. Whatever the reason, doctors are warning women that having children too close together and choosing to have more than three children, could pose very serious risks for both mother and baby.

It seems that the old wisdom that a woman’s body was pregnant for nine months so it needs nine months to recover may have more than a kernel of truth to it. Research has shown that babies conceived less than six months after their sibling’s birth are at increased risk of being born prematurely and at a lower birth weight. More recent studies have also indicated that these babies are more likely to develop a disorder on the autism spectrum. A mother who delivers babies close together is at increased risk of postnatal hemorrhaging and low iron. With each subsequent child, a mother is also increasing her risk of premature labor, preeclampsia, severe bleeding, and uterine rupture.  With this in mind, mothers, including that TV mom, should probably be wondering if it’s worth the risk.

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