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Planning a Family

Family Planning
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New Birth Control Alternatives

Ironically, when it comes to contraception, couples have more options today, and thus greater control over at least one component of family planning. In about the last year, the pharmaceutical industry has spawned a wave of new alternatives for women, which include:

  • A new type of intrauterine device (IUD), called Mirena, which can be left in place for up to five years. It contains the hormone levonorgestrel, which is gradually released over the life of the T-shaped device.
  • Lunelle is a once-a-month injection of synthetic estrogen/progesterone hormones. Despite the convenience of not taking a birth control pill each day, Lunelle does require a visit to the doctor every 28 to 30 days for a new shot.
  • The first contraceptive patch, called Ortho Evra, delivers a steady stream of estrogen and progestin through the skin, and is replaced every seven days. Worn under the clothes on the buttocks, upper torso, or abdomen, it will become available sometime in 2002.
  • A vaginal ring, called NuvaRing, is a small, flexible ring that will soon come on the market, and provides a low dose of estrogen and progestin over a 21-day period.

Does Size and Spacing Matter?

The trend toward women starting families later (or not at all) -- along with the availability of more birth control methods -- does not seem to have made much of a statistical impact on family size in the U.S. According to a recent CDC report, analyzing data from 2000, the average number of offspring born to women over a lifetime was 2.1, compared with fewer than two children per woman during most of the 1970s and 1980s.

With the help of contraceptives, some parents continue to try to space out their children in what they consider the most appropriate intervals, although Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate with their family planning. Many child psychologists advise that three to three-and-a-half years between children is optimal.

"While a 2-year-old child is very insecure, and thus a new baby in the family is more likely to cause competition and sibling problems, a child by age 3 is better able to share a parent successfully," says Peterson, author of Making Healthy Families and An Easier Childbirth.

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