During my teenage years, my girlfriends always provided good advice. From who to date and what outfit to wear to school, to what colleges to apply to and how to bargain shop. They did not have a say, however, in my figuring out when to have children. Planning for my reproductive future was always a tricky subject. Between talks with my dad about the consequences of being a teen mom, and the dirty looks given to my fellow students who got pregnant as teenagers, it was a distant goal and definitely not something I intended at a young age. However, there is far more talk today about reproductive life planning, especially among young adults.
Reproductive life planning is a readiness tool to help women and men of reproductive age develop and work towards their personal goals for having or not having children. Almost half of all pregnancies are unplanned – in North Carolina that is more than 50,000 pregnancies each year. A baby’s vital organs and tissues develop very early in pregnancy, often times even before a woman knows that she is pregnant. The healthier a woman is before pregnancy, the more likely she and her baby are to be healthy during and after pregnancy.
Research has shown that nearly 50% of all medical conditions that complicate pregnancies and negatively impact birth outcomes can be traced back to the preconception period. Since women are likely to go to their friends for advice (like me), experts have determined that providers and consumers should become knowledgeable about reproductive life planning. For instance, providers are now encouraged to ask one key question during each patient encounter, “Are you planning to become pregnant in the next year?” And there are more programs than ever before like the North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign, which educates consumers and providers on counseling strategies that can be used to start the reproductive life planning dialogue.
Planning how many children you want (if any at all), or when you intend to have them, may seem far-fetched. In reality though, there is so much planning that happens day to day, why not consider your reproductive future? You may feel that these decisions are beyond your immediate reach or that you have little control over this aspect of your life. Trust me, time passes quickly and before you know it, if you are a sexually active individual, you could become a parent. So why not plan for it (or plan to delay it) until you and your partner are ready? Your plan could help you consider what form of birth control to use or whether to wait until marriage before having sex. Think of it as your overall guidepost to help you spell out your life goals. It could help you answer questions like what are your plans for school or career, and your plan for finding a life partner. And, how would having children fit into those plans?
Of course, we all know that plans can change. Your reproductive life plan can change too, however it is never too late to start planning or to modify the plan you have. Even if you have children already, your plan can help you think about any other future children you might want. You can also speak with your health provider about how early you can start to try to get pregnant again. Research has shown that waiting 18-23 months is the safest interval between births. Given the high numbers of unintentional pregnancies and the related complications during pregnancy and beyond, health providers are now having more of these conversations with their patients.
Had someone given me a reproductive life planning guide when I was younger, or even asked me about my life plans, I would have paid attention. If nothing else, I definitely would have passed it along to my girlfriends so that I could finally be the one to offer up some sound advice!
Re-Posted Blog from Every Woman North Carolina.Kweli Rashied-Henry, MPH is the North Carolina March of Dimes State Coordinator for the NC Preconception Health Campaign, and a Leadership Team member for the Every Woman Southeast Coalition.