Tracking your fertility could be as simple as turning on your smartphone, but all fertility apps aren’t created equally. Which ones are worth the download, and how can you use them to attain your reproductive health goals?
That, of course, depends on your needs—some people use them simply to track menstrual cycles, while others hope the data can assist them in conceiving. The uses can even differ depending on what kind of phone you have.
Cycle Technologies, which made the fertility and period tracker DOT, has found a significant difference in how Android versus iOS device owners use mobile fertility apps. When they evaluated more than 50,000 active users, they noted that 35% of Apple users utilize the app to prevent pregnancy, compared to 29 percent of Android users. And 25 percent of Android users plan pregnancy using the app, while only 19 percent utilize it for that purpose.
Regardless of how you use a fertility or reproductive health app, here are tips on getting the most from them.
Dr. Serena Chen, a fertility specialist from New Jersey, loves that patients use the apps to know when their periods occur, but doesn’t like the fact that many are basing when to conceive from the app data.
Here’s why: “Good sperm can last for days in the female reproductive tract,” Chen said. “If a couple is having sex a couple times a week they are covered in terms of their fertile window. Knowing the exact time of ovulation does not help you to conceive and seems to generate enormous amounts of stress and contribute to relationship issues.”
Dr. Peter Rizk, head of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of South Alabama recommends the OvaGraph app, which charts and interprets fertility indicators such as basal body temperature and cervical mucus. It works with the OvaCue Fertility Monitor, an FDA-approved device that identifies your most fertile time of the month. The app is free and includes support from a staff, though the monitor costs $299. (Daysy, $395, and Natural Cycles, $6.90 per month, are similar monitor/app platforms.)
Rizk says that the app and monitor give doctors the information they need to assist patients in their fertility initiatives. “As a practitioner, I also find it helpful when my patients are able to share this information with me, and apps like these tend to provide a convenient mechanism for accomplishing that,” he said.
While you don’t have to be under a doctor’s care to use it, Rizk suggests that communicating with your physician regarding fertility planning is key regardless of whether or not you use an app or monitor.
“There is a definite trend underway in which technology is providing people with greater understanding and control of their health, which is a wonderful development in my opinion,” Rizk said. “It’s important, however, that these tools serve as a complement to—and not a replacement for—professional medical care.”
Dr. Shruti Malik, a fertility specialist with Shady Grove Fertility in Virginia, notes that the apps are a convenient way to estimate when the best chances of conception can occur.
“It is important for women to remember that this is an estimate based on the assumption that ovulation is occurring and the second half of the menstrual cycle is fixed. In women that have irregular cycles, it is even more difficult to use an app to estimate the fertile window,” she said.
But she does not recommend solely relying on mobile technology if you’re trying to conceive.
She’s familiar with a few apps, including Glow. That app is free, and lets you contribute to an assistance program that can be used for fertility treatments if the app fails to help you conceive in 10 months. Fertility Friend is a similar program with a free basic app and the option to sign up for a $45 annual membership that gives you message board access and other personalized fertility tools.
“Women that have been using an app without success or with irregular cycles should consider using an ovulation predictor kit or basal body thermometers,” Malik said. “If these match up with the app’s estimate of the fertile window over two to three cycles, then it is okay to use the window provided by the app.”
Just remember to see a fertility specialist after 12 months if you have trouble conceiving. And do your homework on privacy policies to ensure that your medical data is secure.
If nothing else, the forums and chat rooms that come with the apps can be a useful resource for couples trying to conceive.
“This can be a great resource for couples that are going through this difficult time,” Malik added.