Family planning refers to a woman’s ability to choose if and when she becomes pregnant and continues that pregnancy to term. In many parts of the world, a large gap persists between women’s reproductive intentions and their access to family planning options including contraceptives and safe abortion. According to data collected by the United Nations Population Division, in 2015, 12% of married or in-union women of reproductive age around the world had an unmet need for family planning. Unmet need varies widely by region, ranging from 5% in Eastern Asia to 26% in Central Africa. There are many factors that influence unmet need, including a lack of access to information and services, as well as fear of side effects and disapproval from loved ones.
Family planning has important implications for maternal health. In 2008, contraceptive use averted approximately 44% of maternal deaths around the world. One proposed mechanism for this effect is that contraceptive use reduces the number of high-risk and high-parity births, thereby reducing maternal mortality. Access to contraceptives also helps to prevent unwanted pregnancies, some of which result in unsafe abortions—one of the leading causes of global maternal deaths.
Integrating family planning services into maternal health services can be an effective strategy for reducing unmet need, especially in situations where maternity care is a woman’s primary contact with the health care system. Antenatal care provides an opportunity for postpartum family planning education, allowing women to establish healthy birth spacing practices. This strategy also benefits women by increasing their participation in the workforce, which in turn raises household income and allows women to invest in themselves and their families.
While substantial progress has been made over the last few decades in family planning access and utilization, additional efforts are needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of ensuring “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences” by 2030. Given the relationship between family planning and maternal mortality, reaching this target will likely contribute to accomplishing the global maternal mortality target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
- World Contraceptive Use 2016
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division | 2016
- Integrating Family Planning and Maternal and Child Health Care: Saving Lives, Money, and Time
Population Reference Bureau | 2011
- Universal Access to Reproductive Health: Progress and Challenges
UNFPA | January 2016
- Fertility Indicators
Demographic and Health Surveys
- Technical Reference Materials: Family Planning
USAID | August 2013
- Trends in Contraceptive Use Worldwide: 2015
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division | 2015
- Programming Strategies for Postpartum Family Planning
World Health Organization | 2013
- Quality Measurement in Family Planning: Past, Present, Future
Metrics for Management | October 2016
- FP2020: Momentum at the Midpoint 2015-2016
Family Planning 2020 | 2016
- Adding It Up: The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health
Guttmacher Institute and UNFPA | 2009
- National, regional, and global rates and trends in contraceptive prevalence and unmet need for family planning between 1990 and 2015: A systematic and comprehensive analysis
The Lancet | May 2013
- Maternal deaths averted by contraceptive use: An analysis of 172 countries
The Lancet | July 2012
- Interventions to prevent unintended and repeat pregnancy among young people in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review of the published and gray literature
Journal of Adolescent Health | September 2016
- How increased contraceptive use has reduced maternal mortality
Maternal and Child Health Journal | September 2010
- Long-acting reversible contraception crucial to meeting unmet need goals by 2020: Key papers from the 2016 International Conference on Family Planning
Global Health: Science and Practice (Series) | August 2016
Documents & Reports
The Role of the MHTF
Meetings & Events
In January 2016, the MHTF organized an auxiliary session at the International Conference on Family Planning in Nusa Dua, Indonesia on respectful maternity care principles in the context of family planning. The MHTF also spoke in Population Action International’s Defining Quality event which aimed to elucidate new approaches to understanding the quality of family planning.
In July 2013, as a part of the Advancing Dialogue on Maternal Health Series, the MHTF hosted a discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center to explore how family planning programs can improve maternal heath in developing countries.