More American women are successfully taking control of if and when they want to have a baby, according to a new study published in the March 3 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, which found a steep decline in the number of unintended pregnancies in the U.S.
Researchers say the three-decade low is most likely a result of the growing number of women who are opting to use IUDs and other long-acting, reversible forms of birth control to prevent pregnancy. IUDs and other birth control methods that women don't have to think about on a regular basis (unlike the pill!) are thought to be the most effective, and saw an increase in use from 4 percent to 12 percent of women between 2007 and 2012.
Therefore, between 2008 and 2011, "oops" pregnancies declined 18 percent among women in their childbearing years (between the ages of 15 and 44). That's a difference of 45 out of 1,000 versus 54 out of 1,000 women three years earlier.
Meanwhile, unintended pregnancies declined for women of all ages, ethnicities, and, most interestingly, income, likely a reflection of how the Affordable Care Act has made IUDs more accessible for lower-income women. That being said, poor women and high school dropouts are much more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than older, more highly educated women.
Adam Jacobs, director of family planning for Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told Health Day this data reflects a positive trend in American society. "You empower women to choose when they start their family. By doing that, you let them stay in education, which leads to a better income," he said. "They're better able to plan their families and plan their lives."
And when women actually want to get pregnant, they are more likely to give their kids the best possible start in life.
It's worth noting another important data point that was revealed in the study: the number of unintended pregnancies that ended in abortion remained about the same over the three-year period researchers studied: 40 percent in 2008 versus 42 percent in 2011.
The takeaway: If you don't want to have a baby, or you are a parent of a teen who could be sexually active, an IUD is a birth control option to seriously consider. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends this method of pregnancy prevention as a first line of defense.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.