Angie's LIST Guide to
Family Planning

Family planning is the method of creating a plan to control pregnancy and the number of children you wish to have. It also refers to other conditions that affect your reproductive system and sexual health.


A woman holds a baby while the baby holds a man's finger.
Whether you're ready to start a family or don't foresee children in your future, your doctor and other resources can help when it comes to family planning. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)

Family planning services

If you are of childbearing age, you may have considered some form of birth control, especially if you are sexually active. Talking with a specialist who is trained in women's health related issues will give you the skills and education to make informed decisions about your sexual health and either prevent or plan a pregnancy.

Most clinics are operated by the state, locally funded private institutions or physician's offices. At the clinic, trained staff can evaluate your condition, provide personal counseling and perform some medical procedures in their offices. You can also set up a short-term or long-term plan for a birth control option that meets your needs. Some locations may also offer emergency contraception for additional protection against unexpected pregnancy.

Some clinics offer crisis pregnancy programs, which may include pregnancy testing and routine gynecological exams. If you are faced with an unexpected pregnancy or have not had adequate prenatal care, you will be examined to make sure you and your unborn child are physically healthy.

If you have questions about your sexual health, especially sexually transmitted diseases, your local clinic is a good place to seek information. You can ask about your risk for diseases such as HIV, syphilis, trichomoniasis, herpes, chlamydia human papillomavirus. Many family planning clinics offer counseling to help you deal with an sexually transmitted disease (STD) diagnosis as well as referrals to a specialist or medical doctor for further treatment options.

Women's health tests, such as cervical and breast cancer screenings, may also be available at your local clinic. Some programs are cheap or free if you meet certain financial requirements, have no health insurance or receive Medicaid.

Being informed through counseling, education and preventive care will help you make the best decisions for your long-term reproductive care. Professional counseling is available to assist you through crisis points in your life, including an unwanted pregnancy, a cancer diagnosis or an STD diagnosis. Counseling will give you the tools you need to cope and make each issue manageable.

Choosing among family planning clinics

You'll find family planning in clinics, free clinics, hospitals, women's hospitals and organizations such as Planned Parenthood. In most cases, you'll want to be sure that the option you choose is accommodating, friendly, helpful and empathetic to your needs. Be sure to consult Angie's List for member reveiws and ratings for the facilities in your area. 

Your initial consultation will likely be over the phone, where the receptionist will gather some basic information and set up a time for your appointment. Be sure to explain what you want to be seen for and take note of any paperwork or medical records that you should bring with you to your appointment. At the appointment, you may be asked for insurance information, current health status and past medical history.

If you are seeking oral contraception, you will be required to have a physical exam that includes taking your vital signs, evaluating your bone structure and possibly a routine breast exam to check for lumps or abnormalities. A pelvic exam will include a pap smear to rule out any changes in your reproductive organs and cervix. The nurse practitioner or doctor will discuss the best birth control options for you. A women's health clinic will be able to answer all of your questions about how to use contraceptives, myths about contraceptives and what the possible side effects of certain contraceptives may be. 

A popular form of oral contraceptive, the birth control pill, is a synthetic hormone that prevents pregnancy when taken correctly. Other options include the birth control shot or Depo-Provera, birth control sponge, patch, implant, vaginal ring, cervical cap, diaphragm and condoms. of couse, the only assured way to prevent pregnancy is through abstinence. After discussing your birth control options, you'll discuss an effective plan of action with your doctor or trained counselor. He or she will suppy you with your birth control that day or schedule you to come in for another appointment to receive the implant or other form of internal birth control.

If you're pregnant, your doctor will perform an exam and refer to you a gynecologist, who can perform a more thorough and precise prenatal exam.


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