Unintended Pregnancy

Definition

A pregnancy that is either mistimed, or that is unwanted at the time of conception.

Why Does This Matter?

Unintended pregnancy is key to understanding the fertility of populations and the unmet need for contraception.

An unintended pregnancy may influence a woman’s behavior before, during, and after pregnancy, and affect the health of her baby.
By the time she discovers she is pregnant, a woman may have already engaged in activities that can harm the fetus,
such as ingestion of alcohol, tobacco or drugs. And she is less likely to have had adequate preconception and prenatal care.
A woman with an unintended pregnancy is also likely to:

  •     Have inadequate pre-pregnancy folic acid intake.
  •     Have poorly controlled chronic diseases, such as diabetes, before and during pregnancy.
  •     Be at increased risk for preterm birth and low infant birthweight.
  •     Be less likely to breastfeed.
  •     Experience poor bonding and attachment with her baby.
  •     Be at increased risk of abusing or neglecting her child.
  •     Be at increased risk for perinatal depression.

About half (49%) of pregnancies each year in the U.S. are unintended, and about half of these unintended
pregnancies end in abortion. Unplanned pregnancies often result from failure to use any contraception,
less effective contraceptive methods, noncompliance with effective contraceptive methods, or a lack of control
over fertility (for example, the refusal of the male partner to use contraception).  Women with unintended pregnancy
are 2.5 times more likely to be physically abused around the time of pregnancy.

For further information, please read the LA Best Babies Network Perinatal Scorecard

Unintended Pregnancy in the United States by Type and Income (2002)

unintended

  • According to the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, in the United States, 51% of pregnancies were intended and 49 % of pregnancies where unintended.
  • 41% of unintended pregnancies ended in elective abortions.
  • Approximately 17% percent of all pregnancies end in fetal loss, and 14% of unintended pregnancies end in fetal loss. 
  • According to the MIHA 2005-2006 sample, 41.9 % of all pregnancies in the U.S. were unintended. Women with incomes 0-100% of the federal poverty level had the highest rate of unintended pregnancies (51.9%).
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unint   chart

Income as % of Federal Poverty Level
Pregnancy was Unintended
Percent
(%)
SE
95% CI
0-100%
51.9
2.0
48.1-55.8
101-200%
47.3
2.6
42.2-52.4
201-300%
41.5
4.2
33.3-49.7
301-400%
34.0
4.5
25.3-42.8
Over 400%
20.2
2.2
15.9-24.5
Missing income information
36.3
3.6
29.1-43.4
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Sources:  Finer LB et al. Persp Sex Reprod Health. 2006, http://www.cdph.ca.gov/data/surveys/Documents/MO-TableA1-LA-PregnancyIntention.xls Maternal and Infant Health Assessment (MIHA) 2005-2006 sample

Unintended Pregnancy and Usage of Birth control in LA County by Education Level (2005-2006)

Uninten birthcontrol

  • Of pregnant women without a high school education, 38% reported having used some kind of birth control at the time of conception. The high failure rate suggest that the contraceptives were used incorrectly and/or inconsistently.
  • Women with a high school education had the highest rate of unintended pregnancies (48.7%), although 32.7%of this group also reported using contraceptives at the time of conception.
  • College educated women had the lowest rate of unintended pregnancies (18.0%). These women also reported the lowest rate of contraceptive use at the time of conception (25.6%).
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Education Level
Pregnancy was Unintended
Using Birth control at Time of
Conception
Percent (%)
SE
95% CI
Percent (%)
SE
95% CI
No High School
38.5
4.3
30.1-46.9
38.0
4.2
29.7-46.3
Some High School
47.6
3.2
41.4-53.8
28.6
2.9
22.9-34.3
High School/GED
48.7
2.2
44.4-53.1
32.7
2.1
28.5-36.8
Some College
46.6
2.3
42.1-51.2
32.2
2.2
28.0-36.5
College Grad/+
25.6
2.1
21.5-29.6
18.0
1.9
14.4-21.7

Sources: http://www.cdph.ca.gov/data/surveys/Documents/MO-TableA1-LA-PregnancyIntention.xls
Maternal and Infant Health Assessment (MIHA) 2005-2006 sample