Reproductive Life Planning to Ensure Healthy Birth Outcomes

by Jennifer Vickery, Western Regional Coordinator

One of my favorite parts about being a regional coordinator for the North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign is educating consumers on the importance of reproductive life planning and how to create an individualized plan that fits your life.

You may be asking yourself, “What in the world is a reproductive life plan and how is it different from my other life plans and goals?” These are common questions I receive when I’m out in the community teaching this lesson. I’m also commonly asked how tall I am…but that’s beside the point. In short, a reproductive life plan is a set of goals men and women make about childbearing. Though this plan is separate from deciding whether or not to use birth control, a reproductive life plan should complement the other plans you have for your life such as your work, school, and financial goals. A reproductive life plan considers the who, what, when, where, why and even “if” of family planning. Having a reproductive life plan is important even if you never plan to have children.

So why is making a reproductive life plan so important? According to the Gettmacher Institute, roughly half (51%) of the 6 million pregnancies each year in the United States are unintended (1) and an article published by the Journal of American Medicine Association states “infants born as a result of unintended or unplanned pregnancy are at a greater risk for birth defects, low birth weight, and poor mental and physical functioning in early childhood.” (2) January is birth defect prevention month and, as mentioned, a key factor in preventing birth defects is to plan your future pregnancies by creating a reproductive life plan.

Whether or not you are planning to become pregnant in 2017, one of the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) preconception health recommendations for men and women of childbearing age includes creating and annually updating your reproductive life plan. (3) Annually or even biannually updating your reproductive life plan is extremely important since life plans and goals can change at a moment’s notice. Let’s say you just got married and are planning to start a family someday but you happen to win the lottery and all bets are off! You’re moving to a private island and taking all the shelter dogs in North Carolina with you so they can roam free and happy, forever and ever. Maybe this is a little extreme, but you get the picture. Updating your reproductive life plan is important.

Here are a few great questions the CDC recommends asking yourself to begin creating your reproductive life plan:

If you do not want to become pregnant, you might ask yourself:

  • How do I plan to prevent pregnancy? Am I sure that I or my partner will be able to use the method chosen without any problems?
  • What will I do if I or my partner becomes pregnant by accident?
  • What steps can I take to be as healthy as possible?
  • What medical conditions (such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure) or other concerns (such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and using drugs) do I need to talk about with my doctor?
  • Is it possible I could ever change my mind and want to have children one day?

If you DO want to have children one day:

  • How old do I want to be when I start and when I stop having children?
  • How many children do I want to have?
  • How many years do I want between my children?
  • What method do I plan to use to prevent pregnancy until I’m ready to have children? Am I sure that I or my partner will be able to use this method without any problems?
  • What, if anything, do I want to change about my health, relationships, home, school, work, finances, or other parts of my life to get ready to have children?
  • What steps can I take to be as healthy as possible, even if I’m not ready to have children yet?
  • What medical conditions (such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure) or other concerns (such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and using drugs) do I need to talk about with my doctor?

By planning if and/or when you plan to become pregnant you can reduce health risks and improve birth outcomes for you and/or your baby. The process of creating this plan can be fun and doesn’t have to be a formal document you keep locked away, though a formal document is perfectly fine too. If you are a creative person maybe you incorporate your creative skills such as making a collage or writing an encouraging letter to yourself about what you want your life to look like in the future. Get inspired and energized about planning your life!

For more information about reproductive life planning or the North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign visit our website at everywomannc.org.

Sources

  1. https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/unintended-pregnancy-united-states
  2. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/202711
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/preconception/reproductiveplan.html

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