Military Women at Higher Risk of Un-intended Pregnancy

Contraceptive use among service women needs increase

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) There are plenty of contraceptive choices available. Still, many women face an unplanned pregnancy. One recent study says that the risk for unplanned pregnancy could be even higher for military women.

Doctors from the Women and Infants’ Hospital in Providence, R.I., the University of Pittsburgh and other institutions looked at health data on female members of the military provided by the Department of Defense.

The team found high rates of unintended pregnancy among active-duty service-women. The researchers attributed this increase to reduced use of contraception.

"All women should take measures to prevent an unplanned pregnancy."

More women are joining the military than in years past. Active-duty and veteran women are mostly of childbearing age (between 18 and 44 years old), which means women’s reproductive health is becoming a larger part of military-provided care.

Women make up 20% of new military recruits, 15% of active-duty military personnel and 17% of Reserve and National Guard forces, according to the review. In comparison, women comprised only 2% of the active-duty population in 1973.

After examining data on certain groups of active-duty women, the researchers found an increased rate of unintended pregnancy compared to the civilian population, says study author Dr. Sonya Borrero, assistant professor of medicine at the VA Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion at the University of Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, there is no data on unplanned pregnancy among all active-duty women or veterans, she says.

Borrero and the team reviewed studies and found that 54-60% of women in the Air Force reported an unplanned pregnancy, compared to just 50% of all American women. Studies of women in other military branches report similarly high rates: 50-60% of Navy women had an unintended pregnancy and 55-65% of female Army soldiers reported the same.

An unplanned pregnancy for a servicewoman could have consequences that civilian women don’t face, according to Borrero and colleagues. Problems could include a woman not having timely prenatal care and not being able to advance her career as quickly as she’d like.

Based on their review of data, the authors say that women are at higher risk for unintended pregnancy for many reasons, including a lack of reproductive health education and contraceptive use.

A possible lack of knowledge in military medical personnel overseas also may play a part.

Another reason: New military recruits are young, unmarried and, typically, uneducated.

These factors all are associated with ineffective - or failure to use – contraception, which is directly linked to unintended pregnancy, says Borrero.

Borrero thinks that it’d be helpful if researchers could obtain accurate estimates of contraceptive use and unintended pregnancy in the larger military population, and identify those subgroups of military and veteran women who are at highest risk for unplanned pregnancy.

This will help researchers figure out exactly what is stopping these women from effectively using contraception.

“We can then use this information to improve reproductive health care delivery and [effectively provide contraception] to these women to reduce their risk of unintended pregnancy,” says Borrero.

The study notes that women veterans are the fastest growing group of new Veterans Affairs health center users. With military healthcare, active-duty and retired women can receive immunizations, medications, screening tests and other services to prevent disease; gynecological care; and maternity and some infertility care.

Services are provided at a military treatment facility, or a person may be referred to a civilian treatment center if special care is needed.

This study was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 3, 2012
Last Updated:
June 13, 2012