Family Planning: Addressing the myths, misconceptions
Globally, family planning is known to curb maternal and child mortality as well as improve economic status of the family and country at large.
With the current economic challenges bedeviling the nation, a lot of parents are out of job and cannot afford to birth children they cannot cater for.
To this end, the Lagos State government is encouraging women of reproductive age to embrace family planning as it has made it free and accessible at all government health facility.
According to World Health Organisation, WHO, family planning allows individuals and couples to anticipate, attain their desired number of children, the spacing and timing of their births.
The world health body said, it could be achieved through the use of contraceptive methods which according to the 2013 National Demographic Health Survey, NDHS, Nigeria’s Total Fertility Rate, TFR, stood at 5.5 percent, which family planning experts said would undermine the growth of the nation if not urgently addressed.
Nigeria's high rate of TFR is followed by the low uptake of family planning commodities by women of reproductive age as myths and misconceptions also pose as barriers to the use these commodities in Lagos and its environs.
Amongst the most common myths and misconceptions are that family planning causes excessive bleeding and infertility.
However, an increasing number of women have overcome these challenges. Few of them who shared their experiences at The Lagos Island Maternity Hospital, Family Planning Clinic, said they overcame the myths, challenges and misconceptions surrounding family planning uptake and the side effects by seeking the right information through the appropriate channel.
Speaking to our correspondent at a visit to the family planning clinic during a three-day media capacity building workshop organised by Pathfinder International, Mrs Abosede Bakare, a 34 year old trader and a mother of three had little knowledge of family planning when she got married over a decade ago. On the other hand, Mary Samuel, a 42 year old mother of two, said she heard about family planning over the radio.
The two mothers used to live with fear of family planning methods but expressed satisfaction following renewed advocacy and awareness campaigns. They represent millions of married women in Lagos who have fear for family planning.
Bakare said; "I belonged to a group of Nigerian women that believe it is God that gives children and provides for their upkeep, hence no faith in family planning.
"However, this perception changed when I became pregnant with my second child, five years after marriage, and a health care provider educated me about family planning and its benefits."
But, Bakare said her initial excitement about the advantages of family planning was dampened by friends who discouraged her about it, claiming that family planning would make her bleed, become infertile and then develop fibroids.
She said, "My friends in the market place discouraged me, saying family planning will make me not have children again, and blood will be gushing out of my body without stopping. That actually discouraged me."
However, she remarked that her husband’s support made her to return to the hospital after her second child.
"I was afraid to do it because of what my friends told me. That was why I had to stop after six months of using the injectable. I was able to space my children because my husband used the withdrawal method.
"But, when I finally gave birth to my last child, I went back to the family planning unit of Lagos Island Maternity Hospital. They educated me on the benefits of family planning along with the side effects, which can be managed.
"It was at that point I realised that what my friends at the market place were saying were all lies."
On her part, Mary Samuel said she heard about family planning over the radio and was able to do injectable when she travelled to South Africa after her first child.
Unfortunately, she experienced some complications as she was bleeding continuously after menstruating. When she went back to the clinic to report her experience, the health provider asked her to continue that it will stop after sometime.
Samuel said "When the bleeding continued, I stopped the use of injectable. After 10 years, I conquered my fear and decided to go back to using a family planning method but this time, I use implant."
Experts believe that there is need for providers of family planning services in the State to counsel clients on the various methods available and the side effects, so that they can make an informed choice, stressing that there is need to focus on both providers and clients with regards to attitude change.
Speaking on myths and misconceptions surrounding family planning, Dr. Folashade Oludara, Director, Family Planning and Nutrition Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Health, stressed that some old beliefs are seriously mitigating family planning services in the State.
She said some people told our family planning team in one of their sensitisation programmes that family planning is bad, insisting that a woman need to bring out all the eggs God have given her by birthing, else it would turn to cancer.
In some instance, she said that there are communities we go to in Lagos State that vehemently refuse immunisation and life-saving commodities, saying it is government’s ploy to make their children infertile and family planning is not left out.
Highlighting some benefits of family planning, the Director said, child spacing, high productivity of the mother, improved quality life of the children as well as the family as she tasked the media to ensure propagation of accurate information on Family Planning.
Oludara said, “Media needs to spread the correct information at all times, and not confuse the people the more. They need to help change these myths and misconceptions surrounding the usage of FP services in the country in order to increase its uptake and safe women from dying from preventable causes.
On her part, Dr. Moriam Olaide Jagun, the Senior Programme Officer, Palladium Technical Support Unit, identified behaviour change as a method of tackling misconceptions against family planning in the State.
Jagun who is currently working with the Lagos State Ministry of Health to implement its family planning programme noted that the State is making progress with regards to family planning commodities.
The family planning expert however explained that Lagos State is the first state to put in money to the last mile distribution of FP commodities.
"The procurement of the commodities is done by the United Nations Population Fund and given to the Federal Ministry of Health and it’s been distributed to various states in the country but Lagos State pays money for it to get to various facilities (last mile distribution)."
But, she stressed, that there is big gap in the area of unmet needs of married women seeking contraceptives.
The family planning expert lamented; "There is still more room for improvement. The number of unmet need is high. What we need to do as media practitioners is to advocate in order to reach Lagos State’s 74 percent target."
She also tasked the media for its support to help change the myths and misconceptions surrounding the use of family services in the State so as to increase its uptake and save women from dying from preventable causes.
Jagun said; "When churning out reports, let’s write stories that will raise the profile of family planning. The awareness concerning family planning is high but what people need to know is that family planning methods are safe, free in both public and private health facility.
"Government is interested in pushing family planning forward and increase uptake. More people are using it, but most people are still scared to talk about it."
Jagun added most people know about family planning, but we need to transcend from awareness to usage, stressing that people who are using family planning method should advocate for it in order to increase uptake.
She said with family planning, mothers and babies become healthier, because risky pregnancies are avoided, adding that fewer children means more food for each child.
"For every dollar spent on family planning, six dollars is been saved for the country and the six dollars can be used to do other things in the health system."
The reproductive health expert said the myths and misconceptions need to be debunked adding, that the side effects are real for some of the methods. Some people bleed, have headaches and even gain weight but there is different method for everyone. That is why the clients must be properly examined to check the various methods and the right one to choose from.