What Nurses Should Know About Women’s Reproductive Healthcare

Women’s reproductive healthcare has been a source of conflict for decades. As early as 1873, contraceptive information and women’s reproductive rights have been the subject of debate. Today, it’s more important than ever that nurses have a thorough understanding of women’s rights and what reproductive healthcare options providers can offer.   

Recommended podcast series: Women’s Reproductive Health Issues in the Face of Changing Legislation  

Nursing and reproductive healthcare   

Because reproductive health is such a controversial topic, it can be a challenge for some healthcare providers to remain open-minded and non-judgmental when providing information, options, resources, and healthcare to patients. Nurses must remain compassionate and treat all patients equally, regardless of whether they agree with a patient’s healthcare choices.    

Misinformation and myths about reproductive health  

With such easy access to information, patients can learn about different choices they may have, research different providers, and even explore clinical trials. Unfortunately, it can be almost impossible for people to differentiate between high-quality research and misinformation.   

As experts, nurses and other healthcare providers are responsible for clearing up confusion about women’s reproductive healthcare. They must help their patients understand exactly what their choices are. They should also explain what treatments and medications are the safest and most effective for helping them meet their goals.   

Some common misconceptions about women’s reproductive health include:   

Myth: Women are infertile after the age of 40  

Some women are under the impression that they do not need to use any kind of contraception after the age of 40. While pregnancy in women this age is less common, it is certainly not impossible. Healthcare providers should be sure to educate patients in this age group about the safe use of contraception. They should also inform them of the risks associated with pregnancy and delivery of a baby when the mother is over the age of 40.   

Myth: Older people do not need to use protection against sexually transmitted infections  

Healthcare providers may have an implicit bias about the elderly. They may assume they are a low risk for catching or spreading sexually transmitted infections. However, research shows that this population does need more education about prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Older adults can still have active sex lives. They need to be provided with the same resources and education about safe sex as younger adults and even teenagers.   

Myth: Birth control can impair fertility  

Online discussion forums are filled with women expressing concern about their contraceptive methods hurting their future fertility. Many women worry that long term use of birth control pills or intrauterine devices will make it more difficult for them to have a baby in the future. Healthcare providers can provide evidence that long term use of birth control has little to no effect on future reproductive ability.   

Myth: Plan B is an abortion bill  

Many patients concerned about an unwanted pregnancy turn to emergency contraceptive medication, commonly known as Plan B. Some sexually active patients who disagree with abortion may refuse to take emergency contraceptives. Nurses can help patients understand the mechanism of action for these types of medications to ensure that each patient is making an informed choice about their health.  

What does the law say about reproductive health?  

One of the biggest challenges is helping women understand the laws regarding access to abortion in their area. Healthcare providers are obligated to practice within the laws set by their state and or federal governments.   

Make sure that you understand your own state laws, and direct patients to accurate information wherever you can. Nurses must be truthful with their clients and stick to the facts when discussing these sensitive topics with their patients. If a nurse is uncomfortable discussing abortion options with a patient, they should call an advanced practice provider who is familiar with the laws and procedures.   

Providing non-judgmental reproductive healthcare  

Discussing reproductive health can be difficult or even embarrassing for many women. They may be seeking out guidance on how to practice safe sex. They may need sexually transmitted infection testing. Or they may be looking at options for a surprise pregnancy. Regardless, every patient deserves to be treated with respect and compassion.   

Many patients delay seeking care for sexually transmitted infections due to embarrassment or simply hoping that their symptoms would go away. It is important for all healthcare providers to help their patients feel safe enough to discuss all their healthcare concerns openly. Nurses can use therapeutic communication to build trust, talk about safe sex, and create a good treatment plan with their patients.   

Compassion in difficult conversations  

Healthcare providers may find it especially challenging to discuss abortion and reproductive rights with their patients. Those who have strong religious beliefs or who have personally struggled with reproductive issues may have an especially difficult time remaining neutral and unbiased when discussing this topic. Care providers should remember that there are many reasons a woman may seek out an abortion. There are also many reasons a woman may elect to continue a risky or surprise pregnancy.   

Ultimately, healthcare professionals must respect and uphold the laws and the patient’s own choices.