Exploring the links between social support and undesired pregnancy

Social support networks have been known to affect people’s health behaviors. Social support can be tangible or intangible things people provide, like demonstrating care for someone. New research from UCSF, Ibis Reproductive Health and University of Michigan explores the potential links between social support for young women and undesired pregnancy.

The researchers deliberately focused on undesired, rather than unintended pregnancy, reflecting the ongoing evolution of understanding people’s feelings about pregnancy. They focus on desire for pregnancy rather than whether it fit a person’s timing plans. Researchers hypothesized that more social support may increase a young person’s self-confidence and self-worth, and that this may empower them to seek reproductive health information and act on it.

The results varied significantly by race. For non-black women, those with low social support were half as likely to have used any contraception over the last 6 months. On the other hand, black women with low social support were three times more likely to have used contraception than those with high social support. Non-black women who reported low social support had more than 6 times the odds of an undesired pregnancy over 6 months, as compared to non-black women who report higher social support. There was no such relationship for black women.

While findings for non-black women were in line with the researchers’ hypothesis, it’s important to explore why the outcomes for black women differ substantially. There’s evidence for these racial differences in other reproductive health literature, with some proposing that this could be a result of black people experiencing more chronic stressors. In family planning, that can include mistrust and mistreatment by healthcare providers or poor quality sex ed. The mitigating influence of social support may not be enough to overcome those stressors.

The research team suggests more studies with larger sample sizes to continue to explore these connections. If the additional research supports these findings, social interventions could be designed to assess their impact on contraceptive use and undesired pregnancy.