Many women fall pregnant without planning, sometimes through inconsistent or incorrect condom use.

From a young age Amanda Steyn of Bonteheuwel had her life figured out.
Not only did she want to study and pursue her career, but she was adamant she would not have children before the age of 30.

“Having children was never something that appealed to me. I felt if were to have any it would be after I’d established my career and certainly after marriage. I just wanted to enjoy my freedom,” she recalls.

But by age 26, Steyn found herself with mixed emotions. While she had managed to complete her studies and get permanent employment after university, she was a mother - following an unplanned pregnancy.

She admits she was inconsistent with taking the contraceptive pill, but suspects a course of antibiotics may have cancelled out the pill, as her doctor suggested after her conception.

“I didn’t want to have children, at least not before 30, so I had a difficult pregnancy. I hated it so much that I don’t have any pictures of myself pregnant. I was angry and disappointed in myself for not being more careful. Thankfully I got over that anger the minute I saw my baby girl. Only then did I accept the reality of my new life,” she says.

Steyn’s story is not unique.

She is one of many young South African women who had unplanned pregnancies - a phenomenon considered by researchers as “socially disruptive” and that impacts “negatively not only on education, but on future career prospects”.

A new study, which surveyed female students in several South African technical and vocational education training colleges about unplanned pregnancies, has found that of 1000 young women who responded, about 74% reported having unplanned pregnancies.

According to existing research, women with unintended pregnancies are likely to be less well educated and poorer than women without such pregnancies.

Unplanned pregnancies occur mainly due to contraceptive failure, inconsistent or non use of condoms.

According to the latest study - by the Human Sciences Research Council, published in the latest edition of the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) - most female students aged between 18 and 24 who reported having had unplanned pregnancies had no source of income of their own and were dependent on parents and family members.

Almost half the students did not live with their partners, and most lived with peers, fellow students and those whose source of income was part-time work.

Most of the students reported having one pregnancy with one current partner, and most (87%) believed their sexual partners did not have other sexual partners.

It seemed that attending higher education institutions did not translate to improved knowledge and use of contraceptives or practising safer sexual health.

Conversely, students who were married were unlikely to have unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

Researchers found that young people who had more than one pregnancy in their lifetime were also unlikely to have unplanned pregnancy, suggesting that having had a pregnancy raised awareness and the ability to obtain appropriate contraceptive methods.

Writing in the SAMJ, lead researcher Ntombizodwa Mbelle said the latest finding might suggest that single female youth might have different family planning needs to those who were married and require assistance to understand the importance of making appropriate family-planning decisions.

She cautioned that the latest findings should be interpreted carefully due to study limitations, including the fact researchers relied on self reportage, and possible bias.

“Despite these limitations the study has identified unplanned pregnancy as an important public sector priority for reproductive health programmes,” she said.

And Steyn agrees with some of the findings, citing her experience of unplanned pregnancy has taught her some life experiences and made her more aware of her reproductive health needs.

“My daughter is only 3 years old and I’m not ready for another child, planned or unplanned, but I am back on the contraceptive pill the same one I was on before I fell pregnant.

“Only difference is this time I am taking better care of myself and being more responsible. This time I carry my pills in my purse,

“I have a reminder on my phone and sometimes my boyfriend also reminds me.

“I would like to have another child, but this time I also want to have a better pregnancy and enjoy the whole process,” she said.