Linking Family Planning, Newborns and Adolescents on World Contraception Day

Photo: Dickens Ojamuge/Save the Children Uganda

Under the motto “Your Future. Your Choice. Your Contraception”, World Contraception Day 2013 focuses on empowering young people to think ahead and build contraception into their future plans, in order to prevent an unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Today, September 26th, is World Contraception Day. You might wonder, how is empowering young people to think about their future, their choices and contraception linked to healthy newborns? 

A growing body of evidence, reinforced by the new supplement The Lives Saved Tool in 2013: new capabilities and applications published this month in BMC Public Health, highlights the connections between the use of contraception for healthy birth spacing and newborn health, particularly for adolescent girls. Every year, approximately 16 million adolescent girls between the ages of 15 – 19 years give birth.  For some of these adolescents, pregnancy and childbirth are wanted, but for many others, they are not. We also know that complications from pregnancy and child birth are a leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15-19 years in low and middle income countries, and that the effects of adolescent childbearing impact the health of their infants. Perinatal deaths are 50% higher for mothers younger than 20 than for moms aged 20-29. 

Globally, 220 million women have an unmet need for contraception for both spacing and limiting births. Unmet need is defined as the proportion of currently married women who do not want any more children but are not using an effective contraceptive method —women who want to use a method but are unable to use one for many reasons, including limited access to Family Planning (FP) services, cultural or religious objections, fear of side effects, and lack of knowledge, among other reasons. In sub-Saharan Africa, South Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, more than two-thirds of women younger than 20 who want to avoid a pregnancy have an unmet need for family planning.  

All of this evidence highlights the importance of developing specific strategies to reach adolescent girls to delay their first birth until age 18, and if already parents, to space their next pregnancy by at least 24 months. It is why #familyplanning must continue to be an important part of the conversation for #everynewborn

What type of strategies might be included in the Every Newborn Action Plan to reach girls to delay first birth and to space next pregnancy if already parenting? WHO Guidelines on Preventing Early Pregnancy for Poor Reproductive Outcomes Among Adolescents in Developing Countries contains several recommendations, based on a review of the evidence, including:  

  • Sexuality education can equip young people, in and out of school with the knowledge, skills and values to make healthy decisions. 
  • Strengthen girls’ social networks and support to refuse unwanted sexual attention. 
  • Health services delivered through youth-friendly health centers and integrated into a range of community services can give them a choice of family planning methods.
  • Support girls to stay in school at both primary and secondary levels

Save the Children is actively working to provide education and opportunities for young people to learn and plan early, before they face decisions.  In Northern Uganda, for example, Save the Children in partnership with the Institute for Reproductive Health, Georgetown University and Pathfinder International, implements the Gender Roles, Equality and Transformation (GREAT) Project.  Adolescents learn about age and situation-specific fertility awareness, gender, and sexual and reproductive health, including contraceptive use, through storytelling, games and activities.  A gender perspective helps girls and boys reflect on how they define themselves and support each other to change – to empower girls to speak up and boys to show more care in their relationships. View the Toolkit here. 

We cannot reduce newborn mortality without doing more to deliver contraception – especially to young people.  This is why family planning for all women including adolescent girls is an important component of Every Newborn.

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