Does having a child change the contraceptive use behaviour of young mothers?
That’s the question Dr Lungisile Shange sought to answer from research she did which earned her a PhD in Population Studies.
Shange’s study focussed on the postpartum contraceptive use of Umlazi, Durban, mothers aged between 18 and 24.
‘I come from a community where early childbearing is common and I’ve seen many teenage girls become pregnant while still in high school,’ said Shange. ‘Some of these girls are my friends, and I’ve witnessed the effect it has had on them. Some, for example, are unemployed, lack a university education and rely on child support grants.’
Results of her research showed that in many cases having a child did not change the use of contraceptives by young mothers.
She found that many babies were not planned and that the widely held belief that a large number of young women become pregnant due to a lack of information about contraception was incorrect. Many mothers accepted accountability and admitted to being aware of contraception prior to their first pregnancies.
Another surprising and unexpected finding for Shange was that some mothers admitted to getting pregnant again because they had been ‘too lazy to go to the clinic’. In addition, many mothers believed that contraceptives were ineffective. ‘This belief was most prevalent among mothers who did not use any form of protection. They said contraception doesn’t work because they knew many girls who became pregnant while using contraceptives,’ said Shange.
The findings also showed that some nurses were not well informed about contraception as detail they provided to mothers was misleading – for example, implying that certain methods are harmful to women who have never had children as they could cause infertility.
‘Much more needs to be done to help young women protect themselves
from unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, which includes raising contraception awareness as well as educating young women about their own sexual and reproductive health,’ said Shange. ‘Healthcare providers can play an important role in preventing repeat pregnancies and encouraging young women to use contraception correctly and consistently.’
She faced numerous challenges along the way, but had been determined to complete her PhD. ‘As the breadwinner at home, I was working and studying full-time. I had no choice because my family depends on me,’ she said. ‘There were days when I didn’t want to open my laptop. I would go weeks without even looking at my dissertation because I was physically and emotionally exhausted.’
However, Shange is grateful to her family, friends and supervisor for their support and encouragement.
Her advice to other students is: ‘Work hard and adjust your life accordingly because it can be physically and mentally exhausting. Seek the help of academic counsellors. It’s also fine to have fun now and again, but don’t lose sight of your goals.’