Throughout the majority of history, women and couples had to count solely on prayer and luck for family planning. Some couples who desired children were not able to have them. Other couples have desired fewer children or pregnancies that were spaced farther apart, but had trouble accomplishing this goal. Until the 20th century, the only reliable way to prevent or space out pregnancies was abstinence. Fortunately, there are many more family planning options in modern times.
The term "family planning" is often used as a synonym for "birth control." Family planning, however, does not only involve contraception. Family planning also takes into account planning your child's birth for specific times (possibly by spacing births a few years apart from one another) and planning for a child when you have challenges conceiving one.
Family planning is important for the health of a mother and her children, as well as the family's economic situation. According to the United States Agency for International Development, having children more than five years or less than two years apart can cause both a mother and her children serious health consequences. The financial consequence of having children involves the medical costs of pregnancy and birth and the high costs associated with actually bringing up children. Since parents are responsible for providing education, shelter, clothing and food for their children, family planning has an important long-term impact on the financial situation of any family.
Family planning includes contraceptives, sexuality education and natural family planning techniques. Contraceptives include barrier methods like diaphragms, condoms and hormonal birth control. It can also include surgery (hysterectomies for women or vasectomies for men) or intrauterine devices (worn inside a woman's vagina during intercourse). Sex education assists families by teaching youth how their reproductive systems function, how to use contraceptives and the truth about pregnancy and birth control. Natural family planning techniques teach women and their sexual partners how to chart fertility cycles. Couples can abstain from having sex or use a barrier protection method during fertile times to prevent pregnancies. Learning about a woman's fertility cycles can also benefit couples who are having challenges with desired conception.
The World Health Organization and other global and local organizations are actively seeking ways to increase the amount of information and access people have to contraception and other resources related to family planning all around the world. The organization is particularly focusing on low-income communities and developing countries where family planning is less prevalent. Planned Parenthood is an organization that has locations around the U.S. that provide low-cost family planning services and sex education for low-income and uninsured patients.
Family planning philosophies can vary widely across countries. China in particular encourages couples to have only one child each for population control reasons. Other countries have negative attitudes toward family planning. The United Nations (UN) has a fund and annual conference to address global family planning. It aims to provide greater access to reproductive health options and to reduce HIV transmission and infant and maternal mortality.