Family planning

Key facts

  • An estimated 200 million couples in developing countries would like to delay or stop childbearing but are not using any method of contraception.
  • Some family planning methods help prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Family planning reduces the need for unsafe abortion.
  • Family planning reinforces people’s rights to determine the number and spacing of their children.

Family planning allows people to attain their desired number of children and determine the spacing of pregnancies. It is achieved through use of contraceptive methods and the treatment of infertility (this fact sheet focuses on contraception).

Benefits of family planning
Quality family planning services bring a wide range of benefits to women, their families and society.

Preventing pregnancy-related health risks in women
A woman’s ability to space and limit her pregnancies has a direct impact on her health and well-being. Family planning allows spacing of pregnancies and can delay pregnancies in young women at increased risk of health problems and death from early childbearing. This reduces maternal mortality.

Reducing infant mortality
Family planning can prevent closely spaced and ill-timed pregnancies and births, which contribute to some of the world’s highest infant mortality rates. Infants of mothers who die as a result of giving birth also have a greater risk of death and poor health.

Helping to prevent HIV/AIDS
Family planning reduces the risk of unintended pregnancies among women living with HIV, resulting in fewer infected babies and orphans. In addition, male and female condoms provide dual protection against unintended pregnancies and against STIs including HIV.

Reducing the need for unsafe abortion
By reducing rates of unintended pregnancies, family planning reduces the need for unsafe abortion, which accounts for 13% of global maternal mortality.

Empowering people
Family planning enables people to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health.

Reducing adolescent pregnancies
Pregnant adolescents are more likely to have preterm or low birth-weight babies. Babies born to adolescents have higher rates of neonatal mortality. Many adolescent girls who become pregnant have to leave school. This has long-term implications for them as individuals, their families and communities.

Slowing population growth
Family planning is key to slowing unsustainable population growth and the resulting negative impacts on the economy, environment, and national and regional development efforts.

Contraceptive use
Contraceptive use has increased in many parts of the world, especially in Asia and Latin America, but continues to be low in sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, contraceptive use has risen, from 54% in 1990 to 63% in 2007. Regionally, the proportion of married women aged 15–49 reporting use of any contraceptive method has risen minimally between 1990 and 2007, from 17% to 28% in Africa, 57% to 67% in Asia, and 62% to 72% in Latin America and the Caribbean, with significant variation among countries in these regions.

Use of contraception by men makes up a relatively small subset of the above prevalence rates. Male methods are limited to sterilization (vasectomy), condoms and withdrawal. Worldwide, 11.3% of women of reproductive age report that they rely on one of these methods in their marriage or formal union; again there is much variation among regions and countries.

Global unmet need for contraception
An estimated 200 million couples in developing countries would like to delay or stop childbearing but are not using any method of contraception. Reasons for this include:

  • limited choice of methods
  • limited access to contraception, particularly among young people, poorer segments of populations, or unmarried people
  • fear or experience of side-effects
  • cultural or religious opposition
  • poor quality of available services
  • gender-based barriers.

The unmet need for contraception among married women is declining but is still high. In Africa, 22% of married women are at risk of an unplanned pregnancy but are not using contraception; this is only a small decline from the level a decade earlier (24%). In Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean – regions with relatively high contraceptive prevalence – the levels of unmet need are 9% and 11%, respectively.

(Source: WHO Fact sheet N°351)