The Family Planning Ripple Effect for Child Survival

Like the waves on a pond, the benefits from family planning ripple outward from users to their families and communities. One of the biggest ripples is improving the health and survival of children. Explore the graphic to learn about how family planning contributes to improving child survival around the world.

family on timeline infographic Pregnant woman Mother holding toddler Mother nursing infant with standing child Family of four, but mother is nursing infant, not holding toddler Family of four with 2 “shadow” families behind
Healthy Timing of Pregnancy
Family planning enables young women and couples to delay their first pregnancy until they are at least eighteen years old, and feel ready. Both infants and mothers face increased risk of birth complications and death when mothers are younger than 18 or over age 35.1 These complications include low birth weight, preterm birth, and stillbirth – all major contributors to the risk of newborn death. Reducing the risk of maternal death is also important because infants are more likely to survive if their mothers survive.
Healthy Spacing of Pregnancy

Family planning enables women and couples to space pregnancies by at least 24 months, which improves child survival.1

Research shows that as the time between one birth to the next pregnancy increases, risks of mortality and complications such as preterm delivery and low birthweight decrease.2 When mothers become pregnant again shortly after a live birth, both the older child and the new infant face increased risks of death before age 5.

Worldwide, one out of every four child deaths could be prevented every year if all birth-to-pregnancy intervals were three years.

Healthy Nutrition

Family planning can enable women and couples to achieve healthy nutrition for themselves and their families. The “1,000 Day Window of Opportunity” from conception through a child’s second birthday is a critical period for nutrition, setting the stage for physical growth and brain development throughout the rest of a child’s life.3

During this period, infants are dependent on their mothers for balanced and sufficient nutrition – first in utero and then through breastfeeding. When a nursing mother becomes pregnant before the older child reaches age two, it can be difficult to satisfy the nutritional needs of both the nursing baby and the pregnancy, in addition to the mother’s own needs. But with family planning, women and couples can space pregnancies and wait until the older child reaches age two to become pregnant again.

Healthy Families

Family planning helps parents to proactively plan for and achieve their desired family size. This allows mothers and fathers to focus their family’s resources on the number of children they want and can care for. Research has shown that when parents have access to comprehensive family planning, maternal, and child health services, they are able to achieve their desired family size. Child mortality was reduced, and the investment in each child increased – meaning better nutrition, greater use of preventive health services, and higher levels of academic achievement. The result is that families and children have the best chance of surviving and thriving.4

Healthy Nations

When family planning increases child survival and creates healthier families, it can also build healthy nations if governments invest in family planning programs. These investments will save nearly three times their cost over the next 10-15 years in the areas of maternal health, water and sanitation, immunization, education, and malaria. 5

When girls are able to delay pregnancy until age 18 or later, they are often able to stay in school longer. Each year of secondary education increases girls’ earnings later in life by 15 percent or more. 6

The lower mental ability and earning potential caused by poor nutrition in the first 1000 days affect the economy. But ensuring adequate nutrition for optimal growth and development could lead to a GDP increase of up to three percent.4

1. World Health Organization (WHO), Guidelines to Prevent Early Pregnancy and Poor Reproductive Outcomes in Adolescents in Developing Countries (Geneva: WHO, 2012).
2. S. O. Rutstein, “Effects of Preceding Birth Intervals on Neonatal, Infant, and Under-5 Mortality and Nutritional Status in Developing Countries: Evidence From the Demographic and Health Surveys,” International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 89, no. 1 (2005): S7-S24.
3. Susan Horton et al., Scaling Up Nutrition: What Will It Cost? (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2010).
4. James Gribble and Maj-Lis Voss, Family Planning and Economic Well-Being: New Evidence From Bangladesh (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2009).
5. Scott Moreland and Sandra Talbird, Achieving the Millennium Development Goals: The Contribution of Fulfilling the Unmet Need for Family Planning (Washington, DC: USAID, 2006).
6. George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881 (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2002).
The content in this infographic was adapted from the PRB ENGAGE Presentation, The Family Planning Ripple Effect: Children Survive and Nations Thrive, developed by Marissa Pine Yeakey, senior policy analyst at PRB, and Charlotte Feldman-Jacobs, associate vice president for international programs at PRB. This graphic is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the terms of the IDEA Project (No. AID-OAA-A-10-00009). The contents are the responsibility of the Population Reference Bureau and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.