The causal effect of a family planning intervention on women's contraceptive use and birth spacing

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 May 31;119(22):e2200279119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2200279119. Epub 2022 May 24.


Studies have suggested that improving access to family planning (FP) may improve contraceptive use and reduce fertility. However, high-quality evidence, particularly from randomized implementation trials, of the effect of FP programs and interventions on longer-term fertility and birth spacing is lacking. We conduct a nonblinded, randomized, controlled trial to assess the causal impact of improved access to FP on contraceptive use and pregnancy spacing in Lilongwe, Malawi. A total of 2,143 married women aged 18 to 35 who were either pregnant or had recently given birth were recruited through home visits between September 2016 and January 2017 and were randomly assigned to an intervention arm or a control arm. The intervention arm received four services over a 2-y period: 1) up to six FP counseling sessions; 2) free transportation to an FP clinic; 3) free FP services at the clinic or financial reimbursement for FP services obtained elsewhere; and 4) treatment for contraceptive-related side effects. Contraceptive use after 2 y of intervention exposure increased by 5.9 percentage points, mainly through an increased use of contraceptive implants. The intervention group’s hazard of pregnancy was 43.5% lower 24 mo after the index birth. Our results highlight the positive impact of increased access to FP on a woman’s contraceptive use. In addition, we show that exposure to the FP intervention led to a prolongation of birth intervals among intervention women relative to control women and increased her control over birth spacing and postpartum fertility, which, in turn, may contribute to her longer-term health and well-being.

Keywords: Malawi; birth spacing; contraceptive use; family planning; randomized controlled trial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Birth Intervals*
  • Contraception
  • Contraceptive Agents
  • Family Planning Services*
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Humans
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy


  • Contraceptive Agents