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Be proactive about family planning

By Glenna C. Bailey

What is family planning?

Family planning allows women and families to answer questions like, “How many children do I want?” Or “How much time and space do I want between them?” Think of family planning as the care you take before you’re pregnant. And it begins as soon as you start thinking about having a baby.

What are family planning services?

The first step is to see your primary care physician (PCP) or obstetrician/gynecologist (Ob/Gyn). A checkup and some lab tests can help ensure you’re healthy before you get pregnant. Some family planning services include:

  • Exams and Pap tests every year
  • Pregnancy and other lab tests
  • Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) birth control medications and devices
  • Birth control health visits
  • Testing, education and counseling on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and their prevention
  • Help with informed decisions on family planning
  • Treatment of problems related to the use of birth control, including emergency services
  • Pregnancy diagnosis, counseling and referral

Why family planning?

In a “pros and cons” list, the pros win for family planning. First, it helps increase the time between pregnancies. This can improve health for both women and babies. It also helps avoid some negative things, like preterm (too early) birth and low birth weight. Birth defects and postpartum depression are other things that family planning can help prevent. 

Did you know? Almost half the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. And women who have unplanned pregnancies may be more likely to delay prenatal care. This is the care you get once you’re pregnant. They may also be more likely to experience violence or have mental health issues.

What about the children of moms who had an unplanned pregnancy? They may be at higher risk for problems, too. It can affect their mental and physical health. Learning and behavior can be affected, too.

How does family planning work?

Taking care of yourself is key. This means seeing your PCP or Ob/Gyn. Using family planning services is a good idea, too. But planning also means managing the risk of pregnancy until you’re ready. 

The best way to avoid pregnancy is to avoid sex. But if you’re sexually active, using contraceptives (birth control) the right way also works well. Be sure to use them every time. The methods that work best include: 

  • Long-acting reversible contraceptives, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants
  • Hormonal methods, like oral contraceptives (pills), the patch, the ring and the shot 
  • Condoms, which protect against unplanned pregnancy and STIs

Family planning and most types of birth control don’t prevent STIs. You’ll want to use condoms if you’re not in a long-term sexual relationship with only one other person.

What habits should I keep up or start right now?

Eating a healthy diet is good for everyone. But it’s key for prenatal care — the care you get once you’re pregnant. And it makes sense to start healthy habits before you’re pregnant. 

You’ll need more water and fluids than before. You’ll also need more iron, calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Folic acid, too. This is the vitamin that helps prevent birth defects. Ask your PCP or Ob/Gyn about what supplements and vitamins are right for you. 

You’ll also want to give your doctor a list of the OTC medications you take. Some are fine, but others, you should avoid. Just check with your doctor to be safe.

What habits should I avoid?

Be sure to avoid smoking, alcohol and street drugs. They're not good for you or your baby. If you have an unhealthy habit, talk with your doctor right away. Keep in mind that you’re not the first person to have this challenge. Doctors have training on how to help you improve your habits. And they’re here to help you.

What else should I know about family planning?

Here are some resources to help plan your next pregnancy — when you’re ready: 

About the author

Glenna C. Bailey is a health literacy champion, fan of the Apostrophe Protection Society and staunch supporter of the serial comma. She loves writing about consumer health and making info easier to find, understand and act on.

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