Lt. Patricia Butler demonstrates a technique to deliver a baby during a lesson on obstetric emergency procedures to nurses and midwives from Majuro Hospital during a Pacific Partnership 2013 nursing conference.

Women’s Health Month: Focus on Family Planning Resources

By Capt. Richard Biggs, director of surgical services, U.S. Naval Hospital Naples, Italy

Lt. Patricia Butler demonstrates a technique to deliver a baby during a lesson on obstetric emergency procedures to nurses and midwives from Majuro Hospital during a Pacific Partnership 2013 nursing conference.
Lt. Patricia Butler demonstrates a technique to deliver a baby during a lesson on obstetric emergency procedures to nurses and midwives from Majuro Hospital during a Pacific Partnership 2013 nursing conference.

Family planning … birth control, contraception, pregnancy prevention, or however you refer to it, is a personal choice — one that Navy Medicine can help inform and support.

It’s hard to plan everything in life, but when a pregnancy is unanticipated it can create a great deal of personal and family stress. Half of all U.S. women will have an unplanned pregnancy in their lifetime, and our beneficiaries are included in that rate.

For a number of reasons, women can have a hard time finding the ideal birth control. In fact, the average woman in the U.S. will try five different birth control products during her reproductive life-time. Navy Medicine aims to make these choices easier, more accessible, and more effective for all beneficiaries. We offer contraceptive services that are fully available and accessible, and most importantly, free to our patients.

Between 2010 and 2012 Navy Medicine pharmacies filled more than 79,000 contraceptive prescriptions. Although they go by a number of names: pill, patch, shot, etc., contraceptive services really fall into three categories: short-acting reversible contraception (SARC), long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) and emergency contraception (EC).

1. Short-acting reversible contraception (SARC) consists of our old stand-bys: oral contraceptive pills, hormonal patches, vaginal inserts, diaphragms, cervical caps, the contraceptive injection, and even condoms fall into this category. These methods are relatively simple to obtain and begin, and easy to discontinue however, many of them require daily use or insertion/removal with intercourse. Overall they are less effective than the long-acting options described below.

2. Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) consists of intrauterine devices (IUDs) and subdermal (below the skin) contraceptive

capsules. These small plastic devices are placed either in the uterus or upper arm and can last anywhere from 3-10 years depending on the user’s preference. They are convenient because they eliminate the need for refills and daily dosing, and even offer an improved menstrual cycle profile. They are quickly becoming one of the most popular family planning options with high satisfaction rates and continuation rates after 12 months exceeding 85%. Several of our military treatment facilities have established LARC clinics within their women’s health departments. These clinics have improved access and allow patients to receive full-scope services more expeditiously and without delay.

3. Emergency contraception (EC) is just what it sounds like – the back-up for when you “just forget” or the condom breaks. These oral pills are designed to reduce the chances of pregnancy due to contraception absence, failure, or in cases of sexual assault. EC does not require a prescription and can be obtained over the counter from your local pharmacy – no questions asked. These pills are taken over a series of days in stacked and slightly higher doses to delay and disrupt ovulation or fertilization. Although they have been called the “morning-after pill,” they can be used up to 72 hours after intercourse. However, they are most effective when used within hours of unprotected intercourse.

A lot has changed in terms of family planning over the last 10 years. These days, there are so many more options available to our

beneficiaries beyond the simple pill. Regardless of which option you choose, birth control products have become far more sophisticated, user-friendly, and accessible. We encourage all of our beneficiaries to take advantage of these resources.

So whether you want to give LARC a try, or just want to find out what options you have – schedule a family planning visit with your health care provider today or visit http://go.usa.gov/3uJc9 or http://bedsider.org to learn more.