Family planning is a topic that will surely need to come up sooner or later when you are in a serious relationship. As with most things these days, there are a lot of options when it comes to choosing a family planning birth control method. Back in the day it may have been a simple choice between using the pill or a condom, but now there are many more methods to suit every preference, circumstance and lifestyle. You may be wondering which method is the best one for you. The only way to find out is to inform yourself thoroughly, and then make a wise and carefully considered decision.
This article will help you to take a closer look at some different types of family planning methods available, as well as their effectiveness and possible side effects or consequences.
Family planning goals
But before you even start thinking about what method to use, you need to be clear about your family planning goals. Basically, by definition, family planning is when both husband and wife discuss and decide together how many children they would like to have and when. You want to be able to give sufficient love, care, attention and education to each child, so that is why you may choose to limit the number of children to match your available resources. It is also important to time your pregnancies within the fifteen year window from twenty to thirty five years of age. These are the ideal child-bearing years for a woman. If you should experience a miscarriage, you need to take at least six months break before trying to become pregnant again. Likewise, after a birth, it is good to give your body at least a two year rest before the next child is born.
Once you have your goals in place, you will notice that there are in fact two important aspects to this topic of family planning. The first is preventing (or delaying) pregnancy, and the second is preparing for pregnancy. We will look at each of these in turn as follows:
- Oral contraceptives (The Pill)
- Cervical caps
- Contraceptive ring
- Vaginal spermicides
- Withdrawal (coitus interruptus)
- LAM – Lactational Amenorrhea Method
- SDM – Standard Days Method
- Calendar or rhythm method
- Sympto-Thermal Method – Natural Family Planning
Preparing for pregnancy
- Check your lifestyle and relationship
- Adjust your diet
- Have some health checks done
- Know your benefits
- Budget for baby
- Take a vacation for the two of you
So long as you and your spouse are not yet ready to start a family, or you have had one child already and you are taking a break before having a second one, then your goal will be to prevent or delay a pregnancy. The following sixteen methods will give you some idea of your options.
Oral contraceptives (The Pill)
There are two different kinds of pills, namely COC’s (combined oral contraceptives) and POP’s (Progestogen only pills – also known as the mini-pill). COC’s contain both progestogen and estrogen hormones. The pill prevents pregnancy because it stops ovulation and thickens the cervical mucus which stops the sperm from passing through. It must be taken every day at the same time, and with proper use it can be up to 99% effective. Possible side effects may include nausea, dizziness and headaches, and it is not advisable for those who smoke or are over 35 years of age. The good thing is that this method does not interfere with sex, and it helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and reduces cramping.
The injection is also a hormonal contraceptive, but unlike the pill which is taken daily, with the injection it lasts for 3 months. This is an ideal method for those with a busy lifestyle. The injection contains progesterone which prevents ovulation and thickens the cervical mucus so that the sperm does not reach the egg. It is generally 99% effective. Some side effects may be irregular bleeding or spotting, possible weight gain or hair loss. After stopping the injection there may be a delay of between six and eighteen months before menstruation becomes consistent again and therefore there may be a delay in falling pregnant.
Both male and female condoms are barrier methods of birth control which prevent the sperm from entering the vagina. Female condoms are more expensive and are made from polyurethane plastic which conducts body heat, while the male condoms are made from latex. Female and male condoms cannot be used at the same time as they pull each other off. The female condom may be more difficult to insert and may irritate the vagina. If used properly and consistently, condoms can be up to 89% effective.
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped rubber cup with a flexible rim that covers the cervix and is inserted into the vagina before intercourse. It is used together with spermicidal cream or jelly. This form of contraceptive is not suitable for those who are allergic to latex or spermicides, and it may increase the risk of developing urinary tract infections. The diaphragm must remain in the vagina for at least six hours after lovemaking, but it must be removed within 24 hours to avoid the risk of TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome). With consistent and correct use, the diaphragm can be between 80-94% effective.
Cervical caps are quite similar to diaphragms except that they are much smaller and need to be positioned directly onto the cervix in order to be effective in blocking the sperm from entering. Cervical caps are not as commonly used as diaphragms and would mostly be useful for women who have unusually shaped vaginas which would struggle to keep a diaphragm in place. Cervical caps are between 60-90% effective and can provide contraceptive protection for up to 48 hours after which they need to be removed.
The Intrauterine device (IUD) is a small plastic device which is placed in the uterus by a doctor or clinician. Some kinds have copper on them and some contain synthetic progesterone, and they prevent the sperm from fertilizing the egg. Depending on what type you choose, they can be left in place for one year, five years or ten years. There may be some cramping and pain at the time of insertion, and periods may be longer and heavier in the first months after insertion. Otherwise, there are not usually any side effects. This family planning method effectiveness can be up to 99%.
Contraceptive implants are small, flexible rods or capsules which contain progesterone hormone. They are implanted or inserted under the skin of the upper arm. The insertion and removal of the implants require minor surgery, and they can be quite costly. The advantage is that they can stay in for up to five years. The hormone is gradually released into your bloodstream and causes cervical mucus to thicken and block sperm, as well as preventing ovulation. Irregular vaginal bleeding may occur, and periods usually stop about 18 months after receiving the implant. Implants can be removed at any time and then you would be able to fall pregnant. The effectiveness of this contraceptive method is 99%.
The ring is flexible and is about two inches in diameter. It contains synthetic progestin and estrogen, similar to the hormones produced by a woman’s body. The ring is placed directly into the vagina where the hormones are absorbed and released into the bloodstream. This prevents the ovaries from producing and releasing mature eggs, so pregnancy does not occur. The ring should be worn for three weeks and then removed for one week. Some women who use the ring may experience discomfort and vaginal discharge, while others enjoy a reduced menstrual flow and a decrease in acne. When correctly used, the ring can be up to 99% effective in preventing pregnancies.
Patches are placed directly onto the skin, and they contain two synthetic hormones (progesterone and estrogen). The hormones are released through the skin into the bloodstream. They prevent ovulation and thicken the cervical mucus to stop sperm from passing through. The patch is most effective in women who weigh less than 198lb (89kg). A new patch should be applied every week. Some women who wear a patch may experience a light skin irritation at the patch site, and there is usually a reduced menstrual flow and reduced cramping. The patch can be between 95-99% effective.
A vaginal spermicide is a chemical birth control method which kills sperms and prevents pregnancy from taking place. Spermicides are available in the form of a gel, foam, cream, suppository or tablet. It is usually combined with a barrier method such as condoms, diaphragms or cervical caps. It is also a good back up method for those waiting to start the pill or have an IUD inserted, or even when you may have forgotten to take the pill. Some sensitivity or allergic reactions may occur for those who are allergic to the ingredients. Vaginal spermicides can be effective between 50-95% if they are used correctly and consistently.
Withdrawal (coitus interruptus)
As the name suggests, this method of contraception involves the male withdrawing his penis from the female’s vagina before ejaculation occurs. This is probably one of the riskiest methods, as it is not always easy to judge the right moment to withdraw, and the chances of getting pregnant are high. The advantages are that it costs nothing and requires no devices, chemicals or hormones. This method may also decrease the pleasure of the sexual experience due to the interruption of the excitement or plateau phase which is required. If practiced correctly, the withdrawal phase can be up to 96% effective.
Lactational Amenorrhea Method(LAM)
This is a temporary form of contraception for new mothers whose monthly menstrual periods have not started again. This requires exclusively breastfeeding day and night, without giving your baby anything to eat or drink besides breast milk. LAM prevents the release of eggs from the ovaries and can be 98% effective up to six months after the birth of your baby. Once your baby reaches six months you would need to find an alternative contraceptive method.
Standard Days Method(SDM)
The standard days method uses a series of colored beads to keep track of the fertile days in a women’s monthly cycle. This would usually coincide with the 8th -19th days of each 26 to 32 day cycle. By avoiding unprotected vaginal sex during the most fertile days, pregnancy can be prevented. This method can also be used by couples who want to get pregnant so that they can identify the best days to have intercourse. With correct and consistent use, the standard days method can be 88-95% effective.
Calendar or rhythm method
The calendar or rhythm method is similar to the SDM method. The woman needs to monitor her pattern of menstrual cycle taking into consideration that ovulation normally occurs 14 days before (and after) the beginning of menstruation. It must also be remembered that sperm can live for up to three days, and the egg lives for 24 hours. In this way, you can calculate and predict when ovulation will occur and then determine which days will fall into the fertile window. This method can be effective for a woman who has a very regular cycle. However, due to normal fluctuations, it can be an unreliable method of contraception, with efficacy rates being as low as 75%.
Sympto-Thermal Method – Natural family planning
The Catholic family planning method uses the natural Sympto-Thermal Method for determining fertility. This is when a woman tracks her fertile periods by observing the natural signs that her body gives. Three signs, in particular, are noted, namely: the waking temperature (also called basal body temperature); cervical mucus secretions; and physical change that occurs in the cervix. Most women find that their fertile period lasts from 6 to 13 days within each monthly cycle. If used diligently and correctly, this method can be up to 98% effective.
If you have reached the point where you are very sure that you would like your child-bearing days to be over, then sterilization may be your best option. For women, sterilization entails cutting or blocking the fallopian tubes so that the eggs are no longer able to meet the sperm. Menstruation will continue as before. For men, a vasectomy will cut or block the vas deferens tubes which carry the sperm from the testicles. There may be a three-month delay before a vasectomy takes effect while stored sperm is still present. After the procedure, men continue to have normal erections and ejaculate semen but it contains no sperm. Sterilization for men and women is 99% effective. Sterilization is a permanent contraception which is not easily reversible. It should not be done lightly and counseling is recommended.
Preparing for pregnancy
So now you have decided that the time has come for you embark on the adventure of parenthood and you are planning to fall pregnant in the near future. Sometimes this may not happen right away, and you will need to be patient as you await the good news. In the meantime, there are quite a few things you can do to prepare for pregnancy.
Here are a few suggestions:
Check your lifestyle and relationship
When a little one arrives in your home, be prepared for some major changes! The more prepared you can be the better, not only physically and financially, but also mentally and emotionally. Try to clear up any unresolved issues you may have had from your childhood, as these can negatively affect your ability to parent. This would include any trauma, loss of a parent, or any physical or emotional abuse. Seeing a counselor or therapist can be a great help. Make sure that your marriage relationship is on a good footing before you bring a child between you. Children make a happy marriage even happier, but they do not tend to heal an unhappy marriage, so get help in good time. Talk through your expectations on how life will be after you have a child and how you intend to share childcare and household responsibilities. When you are planning a pregnancy try to minimise stress in your life and get enough sleep.
Adjust your diet
Eating well prepares your body for pregnancy and also boosts your chances of conceiving. Make sure you eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, good quality proteins, omega 3 fatty acids, folic acids and dairy products. Stock up on nuts, whole grains, and leafy greens. Cut back as much as possible on the chips, pastries and fizzy drinks. It is also good to limit your intake of caffeine while you are trying to get pregnant and during the pregnancy. Try to maintain a healthy weight, as being either underweight or overweight can reduce your chances of falling pregnant. If you or your partner smoke, now would be a great time to stop, as smoking can make it harder to get pregnant. Smoking also increases the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and miscarriage. Alcohol can sometimes make it harder to conceive, and drinking during pregnancy raises the chances for birth defects and learning difficulties.
Have some health checks done
When you are planning a pregnancy in the near future it is good to visit your Doctor for a check up. Ask about any tests or vaccines you may need and get some prenatal vitamins. If you have any existing health conditions, find out how best to manage or control them. Make sure about any medicines you can and cannot take during pregnancy. If your family has a history of any genetic disorders, your doctor may recommend a blood or saliva test to see if you carry genes for cystic fibrosis, fragile X syndrome, or sickle cell disease. A visit to your dentist would also be in order, as pregnancy raises your chance of gum disease. Get your teeth cleaned and checked and remember to brush and floss thoroughly every day.
Know your benefits
Before you announce your pregnancy at work, it is good to know what you want to do once you have had your baby. Will you continue working, or will you become a stay at home parent? Some companies give paid maternity leave, while others offer unpaid time off. You may also want to use some of your vacation time or sick days before going back to work. And while you are looking into these benefits and options, make sure about your health plan, and see which doctors and hospitals are covered.
Budget for baby
Babies need a lot of stuff, so while you are waiting, start making a list. Remember, the average baby goes through about 8000 diapers before they are potty trained! Then you will need clothes and toiletries, a crib, a car seat and a stroller. If you don’t plan to breastfeed you will need bottles and formula. And don’t forget to factor in doctor’s visits and childcare. While you have time to look around, find the best prices and consider buying in bulk. When it comes to daycare, perhaps you have family who could help.
Take a vacation for the two of you
During these special days, weeks or months before you fall pregnant, you might like to take a vacation just for the two of you. Always remember to cherish and savour your relationship together. Although you may soon have another little person in your lives, and at times it may seem like the baby will require every ounce of your focus and attention, never forget that you have each other and that you are on the same team together. As you begin to build your family, build on the foundation of love and truth, and you will be sure to succeed.