Family planning, or the use of contraceptives, helps women to decide when, and if, they want to have children.
Proper education, counselling and understanding birth control methods can help women to avoid the social, health and financial problems people may face if an unplanned pregnancy happens.
Contraceptives have many benefits, such as helping to reduce unwanted pregnancies in teenagers and unprepared families, allowing couples to control how many children they have and avoiding poorly timed pregnancies.
Contraceptives, such as the pill, often have other benefits too, such as treating acne.
Types of contraceptives
- The pill
- Intrauterine devices
- The female condom
- Contraceptive injections
- Emergency contraceptives
- The male condom
- Hormone patches
Beware of who you ask for help
Family planning is often one of the things some women shy away from discussing. Some prefer to discuss it with friends or family members, instead of seeking medical advice.
South African vlogger, Siphosethu Ditibane, who shares her life as Happily Ever Ditibane, shared some of the dangers of listening to people when it comes to choosing birth control methods. She recalled that she became sick when she used a method her friend recommended.
Instead, ask an expert
Dr Oosthuizen has a specialist degree in obstetrics and gynaecology from the University of Cape Town. Her interests include fertility, endocrinology and recurrent pregnancy loss.
This is what we asked her:
How do I choose the most suitable birth control method?
Dr Oosthuizen says there are multiple things to consider when making choices. she advises women and couples to consult their gynaecologists to find out if there are any medical reasons why you should not use certain birth control methods.
These include a history of clotting, cancer, smoking while over the age of 35, weight conditions and other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure.
"It is very important to find out what works for you," Dr Oosthuizen maintains. "People are different. Some are careful when it comes to their health, some are not."
"People's needs also differ," she explains, "as some people are looking for something temporary, some can go for regular check-ups, some are looking for something that is long term, something that may last three to five years."
She says it is important to ask questions, such as how long you are delaying your pregnancy, so that you can consider your options.
Even though all these methods are effective, only the condom protects you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). All these contraceptive methods only work when they are used correctly.
"In other words, if you are not going to be good with taking your contraceptive, then ask for a method (like an intrauterine device or the implant) that doesn't require regular compliance," Dr Oosthuizen suggests.
Can you damage your fertility as a result of trying out different contraceptive methods?
"You can't damage your ovaries or uterus by changing methods or using a contraceptive for a longer period," Dr Oosthuizen reassures us.
"In terms of medical risks, people often talk about the risk of clots, strokes or breast cancer, though. The most recent reviews found that oral contraceptives are associated with one in almost 8 000 chances of breast cancer. This is very low and probably lower than the effect of being obese, drinking heavily or being a frequent flyer," she adds.
She also says that if you have no history of clotting disorders, it is quite rare to develop deep vein thrombosis (DVT) from the pill, and your chance of developing a clot on the pill is lower than your risk during pregnancy or in the six weeks after birth.
"We know the risk of a stroke using the pill is highest in smokers over the age of 35. So, women need to speak to their doctors about the known risks and how to minimise them so that they can be on the safe side," she says.
Why is it important to consult a professional?
It's very important to see your gynaecologist for an assessment to determine which methods are suitable for you and which to avoid.
Dr Oosthuizen says your gynaecologist will explain the pros and cons of each method and examine you to make sure there is no reason you shouldn't choose a contraceptive.
"You will also get an opportunity to discuss what to consider when you want to stop the method in order to fall pregnant, as well as provide information about family spacing" she adds.
Are there any contraceptives that could negatively affect your future fertility?
"Infertility cannot be as a result of contraceptives," Dr Oosthuizen says, "but is instead due to problems with the female or male partner or a combination of both partners."
Couples struggling with infertility should have an elevation to identify where the problem may be and guide treatment accordingly.
Dr Oosthuizen says that even though contraceptives may not be the cause of infertility, they may mask an underlying problem if one exists. So, a careful evaluation will help us understand if there is a reason for concern and treatment.
Where to find help, and contraceptives?
Visit your doctor, your gynaecologist or your local clinic for guidance and access to a suitable contraceptive.
Do you have questions about birth control methods? Let us know and we'll find the answers!
Share your stories and questions with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous contributions are welcome.