According to Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data, highly educated urban women in some West African countries simultaneously have low rates of both contraceptive use and fertility—suggesting that the DHS may not be capturing a complete picture of women's contraceptive practices.
Individual in-depth interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with a total of 48 women aged 18–49 in Accra, Ghana, who had at least a secondary education to explore their reproductive lives and relationships, and their views on and use of fertility regulation strategies. Data were analyzed using iterative thematic techniques.
Women commonly reported using combinations of contraceptive methods, including “counting days” (using a calendar and the date of one's last menstrual period to estimate “unsafe” days—those on which the risk of conception is high), as well as withdrawal, condoms and frequent use of emergency contraceptive pills. Women described practicing “periodic contraception”: for example, counting days to determine unsafe days and practicing contraception ad hoc on such days. Method use combinations varied from cycle to cycle—forming a “mosaic” of method use combinations over time.
The fertility control strategies commonly reported by the study respondents—periodic contraception, and frequent use of traditional methods and emergency contraceptive pills—are likely not adequately captured in general surveys such as the DHS. Such surveys are also not well suited to measuring combinations of methods and mosaics of method combinations. New ways of capturing women's fertility regulation practices should be considered, including additional survey items, new question modules and specialist studies.
Cicely Marston is associate professor; Alicia Renedo and Kazuyo Machiyama are assistant professors; and John Cleland is emeritus professor—all with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Gertrude Nsorma Nyaaba is a doctoral fellow, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam. Placide Tapsoba is senior associate and country director, Population Council, Accra, Ghana.