Unintended Pregnancy Prevention

photo of a woman holding a pregnancy test, testing positive

An unintended pregnancy is a pregnancy that is reported to have been either unwanted (that is, the pregnancy occurred when no children, or no more children, were desired) or mistimed (that is, the pregnancy occurred earlier than desired). Unintended pregnancy is a core concept that is used to better understand the fertility of populations and the unmet need for contraception (birth control) and family planning. Unintended pregnancy mainly results from not using contraception, or inconsistent or incorrect use of effective contraceptive methods.

Unintended pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of problems for the mom and baby. If a pregnancy is not planned before conception, a woman may not be in optimal health for childbearing. For example, women with an unintended pregnancy could delay prenatal care that may affect the health of the baby. Therefore, it is important for all women of reproductive age to adopt healthy behaviors such as—

In the United States

According to a study published in 2016—

  • In 2011, 45% of pregnancies were unintended—a decline from 51% in 2008.
  • Progress was made in almost every demographic group from 2008 to 2011.
    • The rate of unintended pregnancies decreased 18%—from 54–45 unintended pregnancies per 1,000 women age 15–44 years.
    • Some of the largest declines occurred among teens aged 15–17 years (44%), women who had not completed high school (32%) and Hispanic women (26%).
  • Despite this progress, differences  persist across groups.
    • Among teens 15–19 years of age, 3 out of every 4 pregnancies were unintended.
    • Unintended pregnancy rates per 1,000 women were highest among women age 18 to 24, had low incomes (<100% of the federal poverty level), had not graduated from high school, were non-Hispanic black, and those co-habiting women who had never been married.

Source: Declines in Unintended Pregnancy in the United States, 2008–2011.external icon  N Engl J Med. 2016 Mar 3;374(9):843–52.

The United States has established family planning goals in Healthy People 2020external icon aimed at improving pregnancy planning, spacing, and preventing unintended pregnancy. Family planning efforts that can help reduce unintended pregnancy include increasing access to contraception, particularly to the more effective and longer acting reversible forms of contraception, and increasing correct and consistent use of contraceptive methods overall among those who are sexually active but wish to delay or avoid pregnancy.

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