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On New Mothers and Birth Control

Many want an easy method and long-term protection from pregnancy

FRIDAY, May 17, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Dirty diapers, a screaming baby, mounds of laundry, and… sex?

A new survey says new moms aren't getting what they need or want when it comes to birth control, and this is affecting their sex lives.

Forty-six percent of the 520 new and expecting moms surveyed expressed some level of dissatisfaction with their current birth control method. Forty-three percent said they were considering changing their contraceptive, according to the survey conducted by Emory University School of Medicine.

The women were more likely to be satisfied with non-barrier methods, such as the Pill, than with barrier methods, such as condoms -- 61 percent versus 28 percent.

The most popular birth control methods in the United States right now are oral contraceptives and, for older couples, sterilization, says Dr. Mimi Zieman, a survey consultant and director of family planning for Emory University's School of Medicine.

Condoms, as well as condoms used with another method, are also common.

Despite the widespread use of birth control in this country, one-third of the women surveyed said their most recent pregnancy was unplanned. Fifty-three percent of women who had had unplanned pregnancies also reported they were dissatisfied with their method of birth control, making the dissatisfied group more than three times as likely to have an unplanned pregnancy.

This dissatisfaction not only influences pregnancy rates, but also women's perceptions of their sex lives. The survey discovered that women who are unhappy with their contraceptive are more than twice as likely to be dissatisfied with their sex life since the birth of their first or most recent baby.

Not surprisingly, 57 percent of new mothers reported that the frequency of sexual intercourse had decreased since the birth of their first child.

"Sexual activity requires a certain amount of energy, and the energy is not always there," Zieman explains. "There's so much for a new mother to think about."

When asked about their vision of an ideal contraception, the women agreed that it would combine ease of use with long-term protection from pregnancy.

Most of the mothers also wanted a method that would allow for spontaneity (94 percent); was hassle-free (90 percent); was something they didn't have to think about (89 percent); and would shorten or lighten their periods (77 percent).

The survey was partially funded by Berlex Laboratories, which markets the Mirena intrauterine device (IUD).

Mirena can stay in the uterus for up to five years, and releases a low dose of the hormone levonorgestrel directly to the lining of the uterus. Another IUD, ParaGard T-380A Intrauterine Copper Contraceptive, releases copper ions into the uterus and lasts for 10 years. It's sold by Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical.

Both devices are 99 percent effective, say the researchers.

Many of the women surveyed said an IUD was an option that would appeal to them. Sixty-five percent said learning about the choice was "an important increase in their knowledge of birth control options," while 44 percent rated an IUD as better than their current or most recent contraceptive.

"These modern IUDs are safe and effective," says Zieman, who is also a consultant to Berlex. The modern IUDs are manufactured differently from those that caused problems in the past. Those problems included cramping, bleeding, infection and infertility.

According to Zieman, IUDs are best suited for women in a monogamous relationship (the devices do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV), and for someone who has already had one child.

"It's easier to insert and the uterus accepts it better," she explains.

What To Do: For more information on the various birth control options available to women, visit Planned Parenthood, or the National Library of Medicine.

SOURCE: Mimi Zieman, M.D., director, family planning, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta
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