Birth Control and Family Planning
Selection of the right family planning and birth control options are critical choices for women. These decisions are based on a number of different factors, including your health, how often you have sex, and whether or not you want children. The following information will help you make informed choices about your reproductive health.
Before You Get Pregnant
A healthy pregnancy begins before you become pregnant. It actually begins long before you even think about motherhood. The Office on Women's Health, US Department of Health and Human Services website provides information on what you can do now to make sure any future pregnancies are planned and healthy. All women can benefit from some basic pre-pregnancy planning.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Contraception (non-government) The best way to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy among women who are sexually active is to use effective birth control correctly and consistently. Visit this link to find out more about the different methods of birth control and their effectiveness with typical use.
Intrauterine Devices (non-government) An intrauterine device (IUD) is anything that is placed inside the uterus (womb) to prevent pregnancy. IUDs are placed in your uterus by a licensed health care provider.
Mayo Clinic: Is your body ready for pregnancy?
(non-government) If you've decided to get pregnant, you might be emotionally prepared to have a baby — but is your body ready? To help ensure a healthy pregnancy, schedule a preconception appointment with your health care provider as soon as you begin thinking about pregnancy. A preconception appointment is especially important if you're in your 30s or 40s or you have any chronic health conditions or special concerns. The Mayo Clinic website provides questions for your preconception planning.
Natural Family Planning (non-government) "Natural family planning" and fertility awareness" are terms used for family planning methods that do not use hormones, chemicals, or barriers to avoid or achieve pregnancy. These methods teach you how to track normal monthly changes in your body that can tell you whether you are likely to get pregnant on a given day. By learning a natural family planning method and carefully tracking your body's monthly changes, you can know when to avoid sex to prevent pregnancy or you can know when to have sex if you want to get pregnant. The following resources provide more information on different natural family planning or fertility awareness methods:
If you think you may be pregnant, taking a pregnancy test as soon as the first day of your missed period can help you get the care and support you need. A home pregnancy test can tell whether you are pregnant with almost 99% accuracy, depending on how you use it. If a pregnancy test says you are pregnant, you should see your doctor for another test to confirm the pregnancy and talk about next steps.
Reproductive Health and Contraception Brief (OTSG Women's Health Service Line) This educational brief serves to ensure that all Servicewomen and their providers receive standardized education about contraception (birth control), including long-acting, reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods.
The following links provide useful information and resources on common conditions experienced by women.
Bacterial Vaginosis (non government) Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a condition that happens when there is too much of certain bacteria in the vagina. This changes the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina
Urinary Tract Infections Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are most often caused by bacteria (germs) that get into the bladder, which is part of the urinary tract. UTIs are also called bladder infections. UTIs are common, especially in women. More than half of women will have at least one UTI at some point in life. UTIs are serious and often painful. But most UTIs are easy to treat with antibiotics.
Vulvovaginal Candidiasis (non-government) Some yeast or fungus normally lives in a healthy women's vagina. When there is too much yeast, you can have vaginal burning and/or itching and sometimes sticky, white vaginal discharge. This is called vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC) infection or "yeast infection."
The following links provide an array of information on sexual health related screenings, sexually transmitted diseases and reproductive issues.
Breast Cancer (non-government) The American Cancer Society recommends that women undergo regular screening mammography for the early detection of breast cancer.
Cervical Cancer (non-government) Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix, the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb). Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecological cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and vaccination. It is also very curable when found and treated early.
Group B Streptococcus (non-government) Group B Streptococcus (group B strep) is a type of bacteria that causes illness in people of all ages. Also known as GBS, group B strep disease can be especially severe in newborns, most commonly causing sepsis (infection of the blood), pneumonia (infection in the lungs), and sometimes meningitis (infection of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord). The most common problems caused by group B strep bacteria in adults are bloodstream infections, pneumonia, skin and soft-tissue infections, and bone and joint infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide instructions for the collection of a vaginal/rectal swab for the detection of GBS.
The Pap Test The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for cancers and precancers in the cervix (the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina). Precancers are cell changes that might become cancer if they are not treated the right way.
The menstrual cycle is the monthly series of changes a woman's body goes through in preparation for the possibility of pregnancy. These helpful links will provide you with information to assist you with understanding your cycle and recognizing abnormal symptoms.
Abnormal Uterine Bleeding
(non-government) Abnormal uterine (womb) bleeding can occur as either a change in your normal menstrual period or bleeding in between your normal menses.
Menopause Menopause is the time when your menstrual periods stop permanently and you can no longer get pregnant. After menopause, your body makes much less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Very low estrogen levels after menopause can affect your health and cause symptoms such as hot flashes. The Office of Women's Health provides steps to protect your health and relieve your symptoms.
Menopause 101 Army Fact Sheet provides an overview of menopause, common body changes, and additional menopause resources.
Menstruation and the Menstrual Cycle
Regular menstrual periods in the years between puberty and menopause are usually a sign that your body is working normally. Irregular or heavy, painful periods are not normal. Many women also get premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. This link provides steps to take at home and questions to ask your doctor or nurse about ways to treat your period problems and PMS
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a combination of symptoms that many women get about a week or two before their period. Most women, over 90%, say they get some premenstrual symptoms, such as bloating, headaches, and moodiness. For some women, these symptoms may be so severe that they miss work or school, but other women are not bothered by milder symptoms. On average, women in their 30s are most likely to have PMS. Your doctor can help you find ways to relieve your symptoms.
PMS Symptom Tracker Use this chart to track your PMS symptoms
Developing a Reproductive Life Plan
(non-government) A reproductive life plan is a tool you can use to identify life goals and help think about how having a family fits into these goals. A reproductive plan helps:
- Determine when, or if, to have children
- Plan the timing and spacing of pregnancies
- Identify factors (medical, behavioral, economic, environmental, or social) that might negatively impact pregnancy outcomes
Infertility Infertility means not being able to get pregnant after one year of trying (or six months if a woman is 35 or older). Women who can get pregnant but are unable to stay pregnant may also be infertile. About 10 percent of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Self Care Charts
Please visit the Self Care Charts page (APHC) to access a variety of symptom evaluation charts. The charts include a brief introduction to each symptom along with a list of questions to help you decide whether you should:
- Get medical help right away
- Go to Sick Call, or
- Use a Self-care measure.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)
About 19 million people get an STI each year in the US, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. It is important to visit your health care provider for STI testing, if you have symptoms or questions. However, STIs often do not have symptoms, which is why its essential to be tested regularly. The following Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) links provide information on the most common STIs and how you can protect yourself and your partner(s):
American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) ASHA promotes the sexual health of individuals, families and communities by advocating sound policies and practices and educating the public, professionals and policy makers, in order to foster healthy sexual behaviors and relationships and prevent adverse health outcomes.
HIV and STD Prevention
(APHC) Provides resources on HIV and STI prevention, Fact Sheets, and Army policies affecting sexual health.
(APHC) There are vaccines to protect females and males against many types of HPV. Vaccination is the best way to prevent HPV infection. The vaccine is most effective if you get it before becoming sexually active. However, if you are already sexually active, you should still get vaccinated. Both girls and boys should get 3 doses of HPV vaccine, starting at around age 11–12 years. Older teens and young adults should also start or complete their HPV vaccine series.
STI Information Fact Sheet STI Fact Sheet from the Office on Women's Health.