Return to pregnancy after contraceptive discontinuation to become pregnant: a pooled analysis of West and East African populations

Reprod Health. 2021 Jul 2;18(1):141. doi: 10.1186/s12978-021-01193-w.

Abstract

Background: The fear of infertility or delayed return to fertility is a common barrier to contraceptive use in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly among young or nulliparous women. Global evidence on return to pregnancy after method discontinuation suggests these fears may be misplaced; yet the topic has not been widely studied in sub-Saharan Africa nor by age and parity group.

Methods: Reproductive calendar data from recent Demographic and Health Surveys of 15 sub-Saharan African countries were used to analyze time-to-pregnancy following discontinuation of a contraceptive method with the reason to become pregnant. The probability of pregnancy at 12 months was estimated using single-decrement life tables run by type of method discontinued, age and parity. Results are presented by region: francophone West Africa, anglophone West Africa and East Africa.

Results: The 12-month probability of pregnancy after discontinuation of contraception to become pregnant was 73.0% in francophone West Africa, 78.8% in anglophone West Africa, and 82.0% in East Africa. Our results showed significant regional differences in return to pregnancy by 12 months, with probabilities in francophone West Africa being significantly lower than in anglophone West Africa or East Africa. A lower return to pregnancy by 12 months was seen among women ages 35-49 years and was lowest after discontinuation of a hormonal method for all age groups. Differences by parity group were only evident after discontinuation of hormonal methods in francophone West Africa.

Conclusions: Sustainable gains in increasing contraceptive uptake, especially among youth, may be difficult to achieve without information and counseling that address concerns about infertility and potential delays in return to pregnancy following use of hormonal methods.

Keywords: Contraceptive discontinuation; East Africa; Fecundity; Return to pregnancy; Sub-Saharan Africa; West Africa; Youth.

Plain language summary

The fear of infertility or delayed return to fertility is a common barrier to contraceptive use in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly among young or childless women. Global evidence on the time it takes to become pregnant after the discontinuation of a contraceptive method suggests these fears may be misplaced; yet the topic has not been widely studied in sub-Saharan Africa. Data from recent Demographic and Health Surveys of 15 sub-Saharan African countries were used to analyze the time it takes to become pregnant after discontinuation of a contraceptive method with the reason to become pregnant. The probability of becoming pregnant by 12 months was estimated using a life table approach. Results were compared by type of method discontinued, age and whether women had any children, in three regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Our findings show that the 12-month probability of pregnancy after discontinuation of contraception to become pregnant was 73.0% in francophone West Africa, 78.8% in anglophone West Africa, and 82.0% in East Africa. A lower return to pregnancy by 12 months was seen among women ages 35–49 years and was lowest after discontinuation of a hormonal method for all age groups. Differences by whether women had any children were only evident after discontinuation of hormonal methods in francophone West Africa. The findings indicate that sustainable gains in increasing contraceptive uptake, especially among youth, may be difficult to achieve without information and counseling that address concerns about infertility and potential delays in return to pregnancy following use of hormonal methods.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Africa, Eastern
  • Africa, Western
  • Child
  • Contraception Behavior*
  • Contraceptive Agents*
  • Contraceptive Devices*
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Rate*

Substances

  • Contraceptive Agents