Any woman can get pregnant at any time. But not every woman wants to get pregnant without intentionally planning for it. Unplanned pregnancy is shocking and devastating depending on the timing or circumstances of the woman involved.

Unplanned pregnancy is common. The rise in sexual awareness comes with unintentionally getting pregnant, especially among teenage girls. Oftentimes, we assume that a woman who gets pregnant should be ready and able to care for a new child. But that’s not the case for every woman. This also contributes to rising cases of child abuse and neglect.

What is unplanned pregnancy?

Unplanned pregnancy, also known as unintended pregnancy, occurs when no children or no more children are desired. It is also pregnancy that is mistimed, occurring before the woman is physically, emotionally, and mentally ready for it. Conception is not planned, but it happens, throwing the potential mother into confusion.  Most unplanned pregnancies result from not using contraception or from not using it consistently or correctly. It is also most common among teenage girls or women in their early 20s who are sexually active but not yet ready to take care of children.

Causes of unplanned pregnancy

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There are five main causes of unplanned pregnancy – contraceptive failure, incorrect use of contraceptives, failure to track menstrual cycle correctly, irregular menstrual cycle, and rape.

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Contraceptive failure

A study by Guttmacher Institute,  showed that oral contraceptive pills and condoms had higher failure rates than implants, IUDs, and injectables. Also, traditional methods of birth control withdrawal and periodic abstinence have the highest failure rates and the greatest variability. This means that no contraceptive is 100 per cent effective. Hence,  for every 100 couples that use the method, only 1 or 2 will experience a pregnancy. Some tend to fail at some unexpected moments. Thus pregnancy occurs if the woman is in her fertile period during sexual intercourse.

Incorrect use of contraceptives

Not every couple uses contraception perfectly, which means the method of contraception will be less effective. The reason could be due to being given the wrong instructions about how to use the method. It could also be making mistakes when using the method or forgetting the requirements for using the method. Either way, when a woman uses contraceptives wrongly, it can result in an unplanned pregnancy.

Failure to track menstrual cycle correctly

Every sexually active woman must know how to track her menstrual cycle. That way, she would know her safe and unsafe periods. The safe periods are when she’s not ovulating, thus reducing the chances of pregnancy after sex. The unsafe period is when she’s definitely ovulating, which means a man’s sperm will catch an egg and lead to pregnancy. If you’re not ready to get pregnant, you definitely don’t want to have sex during your ovulation.

Irregular menstrual cycle

Some women have irregular periods, making it difficult to track their menstrual cycles. An irregular period is when a menstrual cycle is shorter than 24 days, more than 38 days long, or if the length varies significantly from month to month. There are several causes for irregular periods, such as a family history of irregular menstruation, menopause or menarche, physical stress, psychological stress, smoking, or medication side effects. Since a woman cannot track her menstruation, she may unintentionally get pregnant after sex.


Rape can lead to pregnancy, especially if the victim is ovulating at the time. According to Wikipedia, over 90% of pregnancies in girls aged 15 and under are due to rape by family members. A publication on the website also said some studies suggest rape may actually result in higher rates of pregnancy than consensual intercourse. And of course, no pregnancy that resulted from rape is planned or wanted.

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Effects of unplanned pregnancy

abortion laws protest
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  • An unplanned pregnancy can result in poor maternal mental health, including perinatal depression, stress, and lower levels of psychological well-being and life satisfaction.
  • A lot of women who unintentionally get pregnant resort to abortion which can lead to complications such as hemorrhage, uterine perforation, cervical injury, infection, and even death. Abortion is illegal in a lot of countries. So some women are forced to patronise illegal means, including going to quacks to do the procedure. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 70,000 maternal deaths each year from complications of unsafe, illegal abortions.
  • An unplanned pregnancy can lead to vesicovaginal fistula (VVF), especially among underaged girls.
  • It has led to a high rate of teenage pregnancy, where most children are often abused and neglected by their mothers.
  • It can lead to additional costs like medical costs, the costs of caring for more children, and the inability of the woman to attain personal/professional goals.
  • Unplanned pregnancy has also led to a lot of deaths. Many women who get pregnant unintentionally are not physically ready to endure the rigors of pregnancy due to previous pregnancy complications or underlying health issues, making them high-risk cases. Also, many pregnant mothers are underaged girls whose bodies are not mature enough for pregnancy and childbirth. WHO estimates that approximately 585,000 women die yearly from pregnancy and childbirth complications.

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Strategies to prevent unplanned pregnancy

Strategies to prevent unplanned pregnancy

  • Sexually active women and girls should learn how to use contraceptives like condoms, birth control pills, patches, vaginal rings, intrauterine devices or IUDs, and/or injectable birth control methods for maximum results.
  • Parents and caregivers should teach their teens about the consequences of unplanned pregnancy and how to protect themselves against it.
  • Health providers should educate their clients on how to prevent unplanned pregnancies. They should also list the services they offer to women needing help.
  • Communities can undertake programs to reach many youths in the community to educate them on the dangers of unwanted pregnancy.
  • The government should collaborate with private organisations like Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to spread awareness about unplanned pregnancies and provide contraceptive solutions to communities where many women have little or no access.

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Dealing with an unplanned pregnancy

Dealing with an unplanned pregnancy
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An unplanned pregnancy can happen to any fertile woman. It’s common. Here are six ways to cope when you find yourself in that situation:

  • Don’t panic. It’s okay to be shocked after you discover you’re unintentionally pregnant. However, take a deep breath and try your best to stay calm. Many couples have dealt with unplanned pregnancies, so you’re not alone.
  • Be sure you’re pregnant by taking a pregnancy test first. If positive, schedule an ante-natal appointment as soon as possible, especially if the pregnancy is potentially high risk.
  • Allow yourself to vent your emotions, such as anger, excitement, frustration, confusion, and all the others. You’ll get better after venting.
  • Picture a more positive outcome of the pregnancy. An unplanned pregnancy doesn’t mean doom and gloom. It could be a wonderful experience if you want it to be.
  • Keep your finances in order. You’ll need it in this trying period.
  • Find non-judgmental support from family and friends. You can also join online groups where some women and girls must have gone through the same ordeal. They will give you more support and tips on how to cope based on their experiences.


Always remember that an unplanned pregnancy is not the end of the world. A lot of women have gone through it and survived. Sure, it comes with unforeseen challenges, but if you keep a positive outlook, someday, you will look back on your ordeal and tell the story with a smile of gratitude on your face. Cheers!

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