Is early childhood development impeded by the birth timing of the younger sibling?

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Background This study investigated whether the timing of birth of the younger siblings was associated with the risk of the older siblings’ developmental vulnerability in early childhood. Methods Linkage of population-level birth registration, hospital, and perinatal datasets to Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) records (2009–2015), enabled follow-up of a cohort of 32,324 Western Australia born singletons. Children with scores <10th percentile on an individual AEDC domain (Physical Health and Wellbeing; Social Competence; Emotional Maturity; Language and Cognitive Skills (school-based); and Communication Skills and General Knowledge) were classified as developmentally vulnerable. Modified Poisson Regression was used to estimate relative risks (RR) for associations between post-birth interpregnancy intervals (IPIs) and developmental vulnerability. Results Relative to post-birth IPIs of 18–23 months, post-birth IPIs of <6 and 6–11 months were associated with an increased risk of children being classified as DV1 (aRR 1.21, 95% CI: 1.11–1.31) and DV2 (aRR 1.31, 95% CI: 1.15–1.49); and DV1 (aRR 1.10, 95% CI: 1.03–1.17) and DV2 (aRR 1.21, 95% CI: 1.09–1.34), respectively. Post-birth IPIs of <6 months were associated with an increased risk on four of the five AEDC domains. Post-birth IPIs of 48–60 months were associated with an increased risk of developmental vulnerability; however, the risk was statistically significant for DV1, DV2 and the domains of Emotional Maturity and Language and Cognitive Skills (school-based). Conclusions Developmental vulnerability was associated with having a closely spaced younger sibling (<12 months post-birth IPIs). Optimising birth spacing should be further investigated as a potential means for improving child development outcomes.

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5 May

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National Health and Medical Research Council



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