Hesperian Health Guides

Family Planning

This chapter discusses ways to prevent pregnancy or plan how much time you want between pregnancies. All the methods explained in this chapter are used safely by people all around the world.

Why Family Planning?
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There are many safe, effective ways to prevent pregnancy, or help you choose when to have a baby and how many children to have. You can usually get low-cost or free methods from health workers or clinics.

Family planning is also called birth control or contraception. No matter what you call it, it has many benefits:

  • Having fewer children is healthier for a woman’s body than having many. By using family planning, you can decide when your body is healthy enough to be pregnant.
  • Waiting to have children and taking time between children can allow you to make a secure life for them, and gives you more time, energy, and money to care for the children you already have.
  • Deciding if and when you want to have children, without others telling you that you should — or should not — gives you more control of your life.
  • Enjoying sex without worrying about getting pregnant if you or your partner do not want or are not ready to have a child.
  • Family planning helps women avoid unsafe abortion, which kills thousands of women every year.

Family planning, sex, pregnancy — sometimes these things are hard to talk about. Hesperian’s book Health Actions for Women suggests ways to get men and women talking about family planning and other women’s health issues.

Some people want a lot of children — especially where people are denied a fair share of resources and it is common for children to die when they are still young because children help with work and provide care for their parents in old age.

family with 8 children wearing ragged clothes.
well dressed family with 2 children.

The situation is different in countries where resources and benefits are more fairly distributed. Where employment, housing, and health care are more available, and where women have equal opportunities for education, jobs, and control over their lives, people usually choose to have smaller families. This is in part because they do not need to depend on their children for economic security, and they are more confident the children they do have will be healthy and survive.

People use family planning when:

  • it is affordable or free.
  • a variety of different methods are available, so people can choose which works best for them.
  • no one is pressured or tricked into using family planning.
  • men understand and believe in the benefits of family planning, and listen to what women want.
  • anyone who wants to use family planning can get it easily, including people who are younger and older, married and unmarried, and people with disabilities.

Who is family planning for?

a man and a woman in wheelchairs embracing.
Family planning is for anyone who might get pregnant – but does not want to right now.

Some people think that family planning is only for married women. But both married and unmarried people have sex, and many women want to be able to enjoy sex without worrying about getting pregnant. Also, women do not always have a choice about having sex. Some are pressured, and some are forced. Without family planning, any woman, married or unmarried, young or older, can get pregnant. As a health worker, it is important that you share what you know about family planning with all women.

a man holding a condom from a package while talking to 3 men.

You must also find ways to share what you know about family planning with men. Some methods, such as condoms, require a man’s commitment. And often a man expects a say in what methods his partner uses. Helping men understand the benefits of family planning can help them overcome their fears about it and understand how family planning helps them too.

Educating men about family planning also makes it easier for a woman to talk with her husband or partner about family planning, and for them to decide together which method to use. If a man still does not want to use family planning even after learning about the benefits, the woman will need to decide if she wants to use it anyway. There are methods she can use without the man knowing.

Teach how family planning works and what to expect

Explain how to use the different family planning methods correctly and be honest about side effects. A main reason a woman stops using a family planning method is because of uncomfortable side effects. But if she knows what to expect she may be willing to stay with the method until side effects decrease.

Helping young people

Young people may start romantic or sexual relationships before they have learned about preventing pregnancy. Communities can help young people get the information they need to make good decisions. Schools can give young people health education that covers pregnancy, young adults can be trained to be health educators, and times can be set aside at clinics or other places to give young people advice and methods to prevent pregnancy.

This page was updated:27 Sep 2018