Family planning (FP) is a key component of basic health services. It benefits the health and well-being of women, children, families, and their communities. Enabling couples to determine whether, when, and how often to have children is vital to safe motherhood and child health. To reduce the risk of adverse perinatal and under-five outcomes, a report of a 2005 Technical Consultation on Birth Spacing, organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), recommends[1] that couples should wait at least 24 months after the birth of their last baby before they try to conceive again.

More recently, a 2008 analysis of Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) data from 52 countries found that birth-to-next conception intervals of 36 to 47 months have the lowest risk of neonatal, infant, and under-five mortality and stunting and underweight.[2] By limiting births and preventing closely spaced births or births to very young or old mothers, the risk of neonatal, infant, child, and maternal mortality can be significantly reduced.

  • A 2012 analysis found that in one year, FP prevented more than 272,000 maternal deaths in 172 countries, a 44 percent reduction. If all needs for FP were met, an additional 104,000 maternal deaths per year could be prevented.[3]
  • A 2010 study also found that the risk of maternal death increases as the number of children per woman rises from two to six or more. For 46 countries over 10 years, the study found that maternal deaths declined by 7–35 percent as the number of children per woman decreased.[4]

In addition to the health benefits, the social and economic benefits of FP are numerous, including the family’s ability to better support their children economically and socially, increased equality between men and women, higher productivity and better incomes, and decreased burden on the public and environmental resources.

FP is a cost effective development investment that contributes to all eight of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):[5] (For a full article detailing these contributions please see Family planning: the essential link to achieving all eight Millennium Development Goals[6].)

[1] World Health Organization (WHO). 2007. Report of a WHO Technical Consultation on Birth Spacing, June 13–15, 2005. Geneva: WHO.

[2] Rutstein S.O. 2008. Further evidence of the effects of preceding birth intervals on neonatal, infant, and under-five-years mortality and nutritional status in developing countries: Evidence from the Demographic and Health Surveys. DHS Working Paper. Calverton, MD: Macro International Inc.

[3] Ahmed S., Qingfeng L., Liu L., and Tsui, A. 2012. Maternal deaths averted by contraceptive use: An analysis of 172 countries. The Lancet, 380(9837), 111-125.

[4] Stover, J., and Ross J. 2010. How increased contraceptive use has reduced maternal mortality. Matern Child Health J, 14, 687-695.

[5] See UN Millennium Development Goals at http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/.

[6] Cates, Willard. 2010. Family planning: the essential link to achieving all eight Millennium Development Goals. Contraception 81 (2010) 460–461.