Irish Twins - What does it Mean, Risks, and Postpartum Recovery
Twins occur when a woman becomes pregnant with two children from one conception. Twins are carried in the womb together and delivered at the same time. Irish twins occur when a woman has a baby within 12 months of having another child. As you can tell twins and Irish twins are very different, but that still doesn’t explain everything. Why are they called “Irish twins” if they aren’t twins? Where did the term come from? Are women even able to have children so soon after birth? What does it look like for your health and well-being to have two children so close together? In this article, we will explore the answer to those questions and more.
What does the phrase Irish Twins Mean?
“Irish” twins is a phrase that refers to when two children are born within 12 months of one another to the same mother. These siblings are born so close together that they are practically twins.
Is it Offensive?
Many people use the phrase as a way to describe the small age gap between siblings. Some people who are “Irish twins” may even use the phrase to describe themselves. However, the phrase originated as derogatory slang towards Irish Catholic people, so it is in its essence offensive.
History of the term “Irish Twins”
During the early 19th century when many Europeans were emigrating to the United States, this term became a popular derogatory slang against Irish Catholic people. The Catholic faith is the dominant faith of Ireland and therefore many people who immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland were practicing Catholics. In the Catholic faith, birth control is thought to be sinful and against the will of God. Therefore, many practicing Catholics are taught to avoid birth control. This avoidance causes many women to become pregnant soon after they give birth.
Because of this, many Irish Catholic families are quite large with many children. With a large family and few work opportunities in the U.S., many of the Irish immigrants were poor. Therefore, “Irish twins” was a slur that was used to imply that a family had more children than they could support. Today, there is not a negative stigma against Irish people in the United States so many people do not think of the term as offensive. However, based on its history, it is probably wise not to use the term. Instead, you can just refer to them as siblings who are close-in-age or as closely spaced siblings.
Risks of Having "Irish Twins"
Recent research has discovered that becoming pregnant within six months of giving birth does lead to increased risks on the fetus. These risks include
- Higher chance of a premature birth
- Placental abruption
- Low birth weight
- Congenital disorders
- Maternal/Gestational anemia
The precise reason for these risks is still unknown. However, researchers believe it has to do with the mother’s inability to heal properly between pregnancies. Pregnancy, labor, and breastfeeding all deplete a woman’s nutrients--particularly folate. These nutrients are essential when a baby is growing, so if there are not enough of these nutrients it can lead to problems. Waiting an extended period of time between pregnancies, preferably 18-24 months after giving birth, allows your body to heal fully.
Pregnancy with Irish Twins
Depending on how quickly your body begins its ovulation cycle after giving birth it is possible for a woman to have two children 9.5-10 months apart. While this is possible, it is not likely. For the majority of women, their first ovulation cycle does not occur until about one month after they have given birth. In addition, the majority of healthcare workers will suggest you wait 6 weeks after birth before having intercourse. So while pregnancy with close-in-age siblings is still viable, it is becoming less popular.
Spacing between your pregnancies is ultimately a choice you and your family need to make on your own. There are many reasons that a woman may choose to space her children close together. And you should not feel any shame if you want to do the same.
Postpartum Recovery with Irish Twins
Due to the limited amount of healing time between pregnancies, many women have a very different labor experience the second time around. With a closely spaced pregnancy, there is an increased risk that your labor will be premature and fast. While a fast labor sounds great, there are some complications that you can experience from it as well. If the contractions are coming too quickly, it can be difficult to manage the pain. Similarly, fast contractions can lead you to want to push which can cause lacerations and tears to your vagina and cervix.
In addition, pregnancy hormones and breastfeeding hormones can be at odds with one another and cause problems. Some of these include Braxton-Hicks contractions and your milk drying up. Not only will your physical recovery take a toll, but your mental health may take a toll as well. Postpartum depression is common among mothers who have had closely spaced siblings.
Raising Two Children Close in Age
Postpartum recovery is a struggle in general and raising a toddler at the same time can be difficult. You will have to deal with twice the number of diapers, twice the amount of supplies, navigate two separate schedules, and deal with different developmental struggles. That being said, raising "Irish twins" is a great journey and a wonderful experience. They will have a friend for life and as they grow older the journey will continue to change. Raising two children close in age will come with its struggles but it is all worth it.