Planning Your Family: Is It Time?

Family planning protects the health of mothers and their babies

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Bringing a child into the world can be a beautiful experience. While some women are mentally and physically ready to get pregnant, others need more time. Whether you are thinking about having your first child or you already have kids, it is important to think about family planning issues.

Family planning is not only about preventing pregnancies. It is about deciding whether or not you want to have a child and taking the proper steps to control the timing of pregnancies.

You and your partner have a lot to think about before getting pregnant. Are you physically healthy enough to go through pregnancy and childbirth? Do you have the time and money to take care of a child? If you already have children, is another child too much to handle? Will your other children be affected by adding a new member to the family?

Even though many parents want their children to be close in age, it may not be a good idea to get pregnant right after giving birth. Some research has shown that spacing pregnancies too close together can be harmful to the health and well-being of both mother and child. Similarly, taking too much time between pregnancies can also pose health risks.

Family planning helps women and their partners figure out and plan when it is best to have a child or if it is better to wait. If it is not time to have a child, family planning can help you decide what methods to use to prevent pregnancy.

What are the benefits of family planning?

A woman's health and well-being can be greatly affected by her ability to space and limit her pregnancies. Family planning not only presents many benefits to women, but also to their families and society as a whole.

Protecting the health of mother and child

Family planning allows women to space out their pregnancies. In addition, it can help delay or prevent pregnancies in young women, a population that has a higher risk of health problems and death during pregnancy and childbirth.

Women who have pregnancies too close together may have a higher risk for complications during childbirth, such as a uterine rupture (a tear in the wall of the uterus). Their babies may also face an increased risk of premature birth and a low birth weight. Family planning helps spread out time between pregnancies in order to avoid these risks.

Infants also benefit from family planning. Closely spaced and poorly timed pregnancies and births are major contributors to high infant mortality rates around the world.

Reducing unintended pregnancies and abortions

Not all women are ready to have a child. They may lack the good health, money, or time that is needed for pregnancy and raising a child. If women do not have access to modern contraceptives, they are more likely to have closely spaced pregnancies, unintended pregnancies, and unsafe abortions.

Quality family planning services and access to contraceptives allows women wait until they are prepared and healthy enough to get pregnant.

Preventing teen pregnancy

Teenage girls will most likely have a very difficult time raising a child. Pregnant teens are more likely to give birth to premature or low-birth weight babies. On top of that, most teen girls who become pregnant have to leave school, which can greatly affect their opportunities for the future.

Through the use of contraceptives or by refraining from sex altogether, family planning can reduce teen pregnancies.

Preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS

If a women with HIV becomes pregnant, she risks passing the disease on to her child. Family planning can reduce the risk of unintended pregnancies among HIV-positive women.

Slowing population growth

While family planning is designed primarily to protect the health of mother and child, it also can help society as a whole. Preventing unintended births can slow the rates of population growth.

Over the past century, the world population has boomed, especially in countries where access to family planning and contraceptives is limited. This population growth is becoming unsustainable, as high population can have a negative impact on the economy, environment, and society.

Family planning prevents unintended pregnancies by letting women control when they want to have a baby. In many cases, places where women have easy access to contraceptives have little to no population growth.

Is it time to have another child?

The decision to add another child to the family should not be taken lightly. You and your partner have to think about the extra time, money, and stress that comes with the territory of pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a child.

Family planning helps you determine when it is the right time to let your family grow.

The risks of spacing pregnancies too close together

Even if you are mentally and financially prepared for another pregnancy, your body may not be. Spacing your pregnancies too close together can be harmful.

Some studies have shown that getting pregnant too soon after giving birth may increase the health risks for both mother and child. The research suggests that a pregnancy within 18 months of giving birth is associated with an increased risk of low birthweight among newborns and premature birth. In addition, women who have previously given birth by C-section may have an increased risk of uterine rupture if their pregnancies are too close together.

One explanation for these increased risks may be that a mother's body does not have enough time to recover from one pregnancy before starting the next. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding take a huge toll on a woman's body by using up her stores of nutrients. It can take time before nutrients like iron and folate are replenished. The health of a mother and her baby can be affected if she does not have enough of these nutrients.

The risks of spacing pregnancies too far apart

If you plan on having multiple children, waiting too long between pregnancies may also pose risks to you and your baby.

Women who become pregnant five years or more after giving birth may have a higher risk of high blood pressure and a slow or difficult delivery. Their babies risk premature birth and a low birthweight.

Currently, it is unclear about why large spaces between pregnancies are associated with certain health problems. One possible explanation is that pregnancy improves the capacity of the uterus to promote and support the growth of the fetus. Over time, however, that improved capacity may disappear.

The best spacing between pregnancies

At the moment, there is not much evidence explaining the best amount of time to wait between pregnancies. The little research that exists suggests waiting at least 18 to 24 month but no more than five years.

Despite all these suggestions, the decision to have another baby is yours and no one else's. There are many factors that you may need to discuss with your partner, including health risks to you and your child, the number of children you already have, how many children you plan to have, access to health care, social circumstances, and your financial situation.

Deciding to get pregnant should be an informed decision.

What are the different types of family planning methods?

Women and their partners determine when to get pregnant using a variety of devices and techniques, including birth control pills, male and female condoms, IUDs, and natural family planning.


Abstinence, or refraining from sex, is the only surefire way to prevent or delay pregnancy.

The Pill

Oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, are the most popular form of birth control. They are generally effective at preventing pregnancy, with a 95 to 99 percent chance of not getting pregnant.

There are various advantages to using birth control pills as a family planning method. They help regulate the menstrual cycle, reduce cramping and menstrual flow, and reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.

Using birth control pills also has its disadvantages. A woman must take one pill every day at the same time. Women who take birth control pills may have an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or blood clots, especially if they smoke. Pills can also cause mood swings or depression.

Barrier Devices

Barrier methods for birth control are those that keep sperm from connecting with an egg. These methods include male and female condoms, cervical caps, and diaphragms.

Unlike many other birth control methods, the male condom protects against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It also lets men share some of the responsibility of birth control.

Long-Term Contraceptive Methods

Birth control pills and condoms require people to think about contraception on a regular basis. If you do not want to worry about contraception every time you have sex, but still want the ability to get pregnant in the future, there are some long-term birth control methods. Among these methods are the contraceptive shot, vaginal ring, intrauterine device (IUD), and implantable rod. All of these methods work by emitting hormones into a woman's body, making the effects harder to reverse. However, the ability to get pregnant usually returns after ending the use of these methods.

Natural Family Planning

Natural Family Planning (NFP), or fertility awareness, is a form of family planing that does not involve any drugs or devices. Women who use this method learn their body's cycles so they can recognize when they are most fertile. Knowing when they are most likely to get pregnant allows women to avoid pregnancy by abstaining from sex during those periods. 

When it comes to family planning, there are many decisions to make. At times, it can seem like too many decisions. But don't get overwhelmed. Even with the best planning, you do not always have control when you become pregnant. The goal of family planning is to help you determine if you are ready for pregnancy. Knowing the risks and benefits you may face will help you decide if it is time to have a child.

Review Date: 
November 25, 2011