Family planning or reproductive life planning is a reproductive health option that allows human beings, that is, couples, women and men, to decide about their reproductive life in general, and to plan the number of children they want to have.
Thanks to family planning methods, people can decide when is the right moment for them to become parents, and to schedule the amount of children they want to conceive. Planning your reproductive life has allowed us to separate sexual intercourse from the mere purpose of having offspring. In other words, couples can now enjoy having intercourse without fearing that an unintended pregnancy occurs.
Amongst the different types of family planning methods, we can find those designed to prevent pregnancy (contraceptives), as well as those that can contribute to increase your chances of achieving it (fertility treatments).
Definition & purpose
Family planning can be defined as the practice of controlling the number of children born from a couple or person, as well as the time frame between pregnancies. It involves the use of contraception, as well as the promotion of family life education, pre-conception counseling, management of STDs, etc.
This definition is based on the one given by the World Health Organization (WHO):
Family planning allows people to attain their desired number of children and determine the spacing of pregnancies. It is achieved through use of contraceptive methods and the treatment of infertility.
To sum up, the following are the three main goals of family planning methods:
- To let people choose when is the right moment for them to have offspring
- To allow people to decide upon the number of children they wish to have
- To let people decide on the time frame between pregnancies, that is, the age gap between siblings
These purposes can be achieved thanks to contraceptive or birth control methods and infertility treatments.
To put it simply, family planning should be understood as a means to both prevent an unintended pregnancy, and to choose when to get pregnant in accordance with your particular life circumstances and preferences.
Other aspects addressed by family planning are:
- Sexuality education
- Prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Counseling for pregnancy and birth
- Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)
Why are they so important?
Family planning is a fundamental right, and as such, if done properly, it offers multiple advantages for women and their families, as well as for our society in general.
In developing countries, reproductive life planning can even save lives, and contribute to the overall wellbeing of the society.
In short, it brings a series of benefits for everyone and contributes to family happiness. The following are the most significant ones:
- Reduced infant mortality rates
- Especially among less-than-1-year-old babies due to maternal health problems or after having babies too close together. A 2-year gap between pregnancies helps women deliver healthier children, and increases the infant mortality rate by 50%.
- Prevention of unplanned or high-risk pregnancies
- Limiting the number of pregnancies a woman goes through, as well as the time frame between them, the overall maternal health and wellbeing increase. Likewise, when the number of babies a woman carries is limited to her childbearing years, the maternal mortality rate (MMRate) decreases.
- Prevention of HIV transmission
- Firstly, it helps to prevent the risk of unplanned pregnancy in HIV-infected women, which at the same time helps prevent the mother-to-child transmission of HIV, reducing the orphan statistics. Secondly, barrier birth control methods like the condom offer added protection, as they prevent unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of STDs like the HIV all at the same time.
- Reduced incidence of abortion complications
- Since family planning contributes to reducing the rate of unintended pregnancies, it is only logical that it also diminishes the abortion rate, which currently represents 13% of the world’s MMRate.
- Diminished rate of adolescent pregnancies
- Babies born from too young girls have a higher chance of being born prematurely or with low birth weight. Moreover, children born from teenagers have a higher neonatal mortality rate (NMR). It reduces the school drop-out rate as well.
- Decreased population growth
- Family planning helps to control the world’s birth rates and reduce overpopulation, which contributes to improving important areas such as the economy, environment, and sustainable development.
- Power to decide and better sex education
- A person who is well-educated can make better decisions when it comes to dealing with her overall health and wellbeing.
Spreading as many information as necessary to prevent the absence of proper family planning is crucial to achieve the well-being of both partners, facilitate personal autonomy, support reproductive health, and improve the development and growth of our society.
Family planning tips
When a couple or woman decides to get pregnant, the next step is to start taking the necessary steps towards achieving a healthy pregnancy above all.
First and foremost, in order to increase the chances of getting pregnant, one should learn how to calculate her fertile days and engage into unprotected sexual intercourse during those days.
Secondly, we recommend that you pay special attention to the following tips, all of them related to maternal health during pregnancy and the overall wellbeing of the pregnant woman when she is trying to conceive (TTC):
- Start taking folic acid. This vitamin helps prevent congenital spine and spinal cord malformations, including spina bifida. The intake of folic acid is especially important throughout the first trimester of pregnancy.
- Follow a balanced diet, high in fiber, iron, calcium, omega-3 fats, etc.
- Leave behind any toxic habit you may have, including tobacco and alcohol consumption. Caffeine is also unadvisable.
- Make an appointment with your OB/GYN for a gynecological exam and to receive the first recommendations for a healthy pregnancy.
- Do moderate physical activity. Sports like yoga, pilates, swimming, or walking are strongly recommended.
- Full compliance with mandatory vaccination schedules is crucial to being immunized. Get yourself vaccinated if you missed one or more doses when you were younger.
- Take special care of your intimate hygiene, and practice good hygiene in general now more than ever.
- If you have not had toxoplasmosis ever before, do not eat unwashed fruits or vegetables. Also, avoid eating raw or insufficiently cooked meat unless they have been previously frozen at a -22 °C temperature for 10 days.
- Avoid, as long as possible, exposure to chemical agents and environmental contaminants in general. Working at a gas station or dry-cleaning shops may be perjudicial.
- Do not start medications without medical prescription and consent, including over-the-counter drugs.
If followed by both the man and the woman without becoming obsessed, these tips are the first steps towards bringing a healthy baby into the world.
Reproductive life planning options
As explained above, family planning includes methods for both preventing an unintended pregnancy as well as to achieve a successful one when the couple wishes to.
These methods can be classified into two groups based on the purpose for which they are used: 1) contraception; and 2) Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART).
There exist many birth control or contraceptive methods depending on the mechanism they use to prevent pregnancy, as well as their duration and effectiveness.
The following is a brief summary of all of them classified by type (natural vs. artificial family planning methods):
- Natural methods
- They work by identifying the moment of ovulation and the fertile window of the woman. During these days, ejaculation inside the vagina is avoided to prevent an unintended pregnant. The most common ones include the pull-out method, rhythm method, Billings Ovulation Method (BOM), basal body temperature (BBT) method, etc.
- Barrier methods
- They work by impeding the sperm from reaching the egg. Some of them prevent from the transmission of STDs as well. The most popular is the condom, but there exist others like the diaphragm, cervical cup, vaginal sponge, and the IUD (intrauterine device) or coil.
- Hormonal methods
- They contain female sex hormones that interfere with the menstrual cycle and prevent ovulation. There exists a wide range of hormonal birth control methods, including the pill, implant (a.k.a. Nexplanon), injection, ring (Nuvaring), morning-after pill, patches…
- Permanent methods
- They are surgical procedures for the permanent sterilization of either the man or the woman. The most common ones are the vasectomy (for males) and the tubal ligation (for females).
We have only mentioned the most commonly used types of birth control methods, but the range of methods available nowadays includes many more. When a couple decide to start using family planning methods, the most advisable is to visit a specialist to get advice on the most suitable method for you.
Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)
Fertility treatments are used to help someone become a parent when it is not possible naturally, and as such they are considered family planning methods as well.
As in the case of contraception, we can find a varied range of fertility options, each one of them indicated depending on the cause of infertility. The following are the most popular ones:
- Artificial Insemination (AI)
- It consists in inserting the processed semen sample provided by the partner or husband directly inside the woman’s womb. Ovarian stimulation is required to monitor the moment of ovulation.
- In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
- The eggs of the patient are harvested by means of follicle puncture (ovum pick-up) after inducing ovulation. After that, they are fertilized with the husband’s or partner’s sperm in the lab. The resulting embryos will be cultured prior to transferring those with the best quality to the womb so that they are hopefully able to attach.
- Egg donation
- In this case, the method of choice is IVF as well, but this time it is not the patient’s eggs which are used, but those from an egg donor. Certain diseases, poor egg quality, or low ovarian reserve are the most common causes why a woman may need to use donor eggs to get pregnant.
- Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)
- This type of embryo genetic testing is used to examine the embryos obtained after IVF. The goal is to discard those containing chromosomal alterations and transfer only the healthy ones. It is used to prevent the transmission of genetic abnormalities to offspring as well.
Finally, fertility preservation is another family planning option that should be considered in those cases where it might be necessary. When a woman or man of childbearing age decides to postpone parenthood, freezing their gametes is a highly recommended option, since the biological clock is ticking, especially in the case of women.
FAQs from users
What is family planning operation?
Family planning operation for women is called tubal ligation or tubectomy. It means that the Fallopian tubes are ligated, thereby blocking the passage of sperm. In other words, sperm cannot reach the egg, and fertilization won’t occur. It is a permanent birth control method, and for this reason it should be done only if one is sure not to have children in the future.
Learn more about this technique here: Tubal Ligation Procedure – Should You Get Your Tubes Tied?
Can family planning pills terminate pregnancy?
No, birth control pills (oral contraception) cannot be used to terminate a pregnancy. They work by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg and also thicken the cervical mucus, thereby making it difficult for the sperm to live and swim inside the female reproductive tract.
Get information about this hormonal birth control method and other contraceptive options here: Types of Birth Control Methods.
Does family planning bring down fertility?
There exists a long-running debate on this issue. Actually, with a few exceptions, women are able to get their fertility (ovulation cycle) back immediately after they stop using birth control. The level of fertility depends on your age above all, as well as on other things that actually have nothing to do with the use of contraception.
Does family planning stop menstruation?
No, a woman continues to have her periods in spite of the use of contraception. However, they can be used to delay your period or choose when you want it to start each month.
To put it simply, birth control pills work by “imitating” the natural menstrual cycle, and this is the reason why women who use them still experience bleeding similar to that of periods, although it is not an actual period.
A pack of birth control pills contains 28 pills, out of which only 21 are active pills (i.e. they contain hormones). Inactive pills are actually a placebo used to maintain the routine of taking one pill each day.
The woman will experience bleeding during the days when she is taking the inactive pills. This bleeding occurs as a response of the body to stopping the reception of the hormones that where present on the active pills.
Is family planning allowed in Islam?
Yes, as long as it is used as a private measure to regulate the family size due to economic or health reasons.
As for consent to use it between husband and wife, according to Islamic law, the woman has full right to use birth control methods, even without the consent of her husband.
However, she cannot force her spouse to use a condom or practice the pull-out method if he does not want to.
Does family planning cause weight gain?
Actually, there is no reason why, in spite of the common belief. But it is true that, though rarely, some women do gain a little weight after starting taking oral contraceptives. It is due to fluid retention, which means that it is just a temporary side effect.
Suggested for you
As one shall see, there exists a varied range of birth control options suitable for both males and females. Want to learn more about the pros and cons of each type? Check this out: Birth Control Methods & Options.
On the other hand, Assisted Reproductive Technology is a field of medicine that is becoming increasingly popular in our society in general. To learn everything you need to know about the different techniques to achieve a pregnancy in spite of infertility issues, don’t miss this post: What Are Infertility Treatments?