Family planning offers a lot to mothers, their babies, families, communities and society as a whole but one of the greatest challenges to reproductive advocacy is the unmet need for family planning services by millions of women in Nigeria and most poor resource countries.
Many women require family planning but are not on any form, yet if they had access to modern methods of family planning, there would be fewer abortions, miscarriages, maternal and infant deaths.
Family planning or contraception as it is usually referred to includes the diverse methods and techniques whereby couples are able to determine the number of children they want to have and when they want to have them. Evidence that family planning works can be seen from countries such as China and India that have been able to check their population growth rate and improve the standard of living of citizens through the introduction of effective measures.
However, limited access as well as diverse religious and traditional beliefs still hamper the practice of family planning. Yet the various family planning options offer wide range of benefits.
For instance male and female condoms apart from providing contraception and preventing unwanted pregnancies by serving as a physical barrier between sperm and eggs, when correctly and consistently used, also reduce risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis and gonorrhoea.
There are the Combined Oral Contraceptive pills (COCs) that offer significant protection from cancers. These pills are usually made up of oestrogen and progestogen components in order to prevent ovulation by inhibiting the follicle stimulating and luteinizing hormones.
Most formulations contain 21 hormonally active pills followed by seven placebo pills to facilitate consistent daily intake throughout a 28-day menstrual cycle. Oral contraceptive pills prevent benign breast disease, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and functional cysts. The use of COCs is also associated with risk reduction for endometrial and ovarian cancers.
It is well established that women who are breastfeeding or have challenges with complying with oral tablets or injections, can utilize contraceptive implants such as implanon, which is a single-rod implant that can be inserted underneath the skin where it then releases a measured quantity of the contraceptive at a predetermined rate over a period of three years.
It is a reliable method without any further need to swallow pills or receive intramuscular injections. Once the rod is removed after three years, return to fertility is usually within three weeks.
Not many mothers appear to be aware that consistent and exclusive breastfeeding of their babies during the first six months of life is a form of natural contraception. This approach, known as the Lactational Amenorrhoea Method (LAM), prevents the cyclical release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation).
This is why most mothers do not menstruate while exclusively breastfeeding their babies. Therefore, breastfeeding is beneficial for both mother and baby since it not only promotes bonding between them but also provides contraception at no extra cost to the mother.
One of the greatest success of family planning is in reducing maternal and childhood mortality rates. For instance, it is known that a woman who has more than four children stands a higher risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth.
Use of contraceptives has also reduced the incidence of unwanted pregnancies among teenagers especially girls below 18 years who are more likely to suffer adverse events like prolonged obstructed labour and unsafe abortions during pregnancy and delivery.
A major strategy adopted for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS (PMTCT) is the prevention of unwanted pregnancies among women that have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Such women are adequately counselled on the numerous available family planning techniques and assisted in making the best choice for them so that they can only get pregnant when they are ready to do so. They are placed on antiretroviral drugs to protect the unborn baby. This has reduced the incidence of paediatric HIV/AIDS among new-borns in society.
The bottom line is that a wide range of family planning options are available with their potential benefits. Women need to be enabled to make the best choice tailored towards meeting their own unique needs.