Someone I know in Berlin is developing a new fertility-app. She runs a dynamic young start-up and is a welcome guest of all kinds of digital health meetups. Because healthcare is going digital and digital healthcare is going mainstream. So the question came up, whether I could give the new fertility app some free promotion on my blog. But how can I promote something I don’t agree with?
The fact is, we live in a technology-based culture. Everything, it seems, can be done and learned through the computer or special apps on iPhones, iPads, or other smartphone devices. This includes fertility medical apps available at various prices from $0 to $200 U.S. dollars. But do fertility apps really work?
The information provided in these apps looks impressive at first and include some combination of the following parameters:
• Temperature charting
• Cervical mucus info (some apps give you scales to use for stretching and measuring mucus directly on the phone, it really makes me wonder, who would do something like that?)
• Tips for improving fertility (only the expensive fertility apps)
• Prediction estimates, including gender (which is a total nonsense, scientifically speaking, but many apps are not about facts, but about colors and advertising)
• Social shares
• Graphics etc.
Some of the fertility apps are extremely complicated and combine things like moods, possible perimenopausal symptoms, temperature measurments, data on nutrition, smoking and drinking habits, etc. It takes a long time to enter all this information, makes you addicted to the app, and even then it’s not entirely customized.
Most of the fertility apps will offer, at the very least, a calendar that will show you dates you are likely to be fertile. Judged by this output, fertility apps do seem to work. But how reliable is the information they provide?
Calculating fertile days is primarily based on the length of your past menstrual cycles. However, the cycle length and the number of days during menses is completely different for every woman. One woman, for instance, may go 29 days in one month, and then 30 days the next, but 27 days the month after that. Because of the fluctuating cycle days, the apps can only estimate ovulation days and the changes after the cycle has finished. They give an “average” cycle length. The woman above would have an average cycle length of 28.6 days, which would impact her actual date of ovulation and fertility window.
So, fertility apps predict future ovulations entirely based on the past ones, just like any other temperature- and charting-based method. Given that menstrual cycles oscilate even in healthiest women (on the average 1-2 times a year even), this accuracy in predicting your most fertile window is simply not enough.
Whether you are trying to get pregnant, or trying to avoid it, relying on app over a long period of time is sure to get you into a trouble. But what I consider to be much worse is that fertility apps are supporting women in losing contact to their bodies and becoming blind to all the subtle signs which it always sends when ovulation is approaching.
While some of the apps are informative with graphs and tips to improve fertility any woman can learn to understand the basics of her own cycle after only a few months and doesn’t need a fertility-app for that. Any woman can easily learn to determine her fertility window and her most fertile days much better than any technology.
It is not that I’m telling that the accuracy of the apps is necessarily bad, only that it’s not exactly a good thing if a woman doesn’t know her own cycle. Women should understand their fertility, menstrual cycle, and ovulation better than any app for the simple fact that it’s your body and an app is a robot that only estimates one certain process (your fertile days in this case) and this will not get better no matter how much information you feed into it.
Many women believe fertility and ovulation are some complicated processes which need to be determined by measurements. For those trying to conceive, or trying to avoid getting pregnant, there is a plethora of information bogged down by medical terminology that can be overwhelming. And yet, things like knowing your basal temperature, measuring the length and consistency of your cervical mucus, the opening and position of your cervix, etc., are the most natural and simple processes in the world and every woman needs to know them and needs to be able to understand when her ovulation is coming.
Therefore, while fertility apps are okay and certainly better then using no method at all to determine fertile days, true understanding of the cycle is the key. Knowing your own cycle and getting to know your cervical mucus (though you don’t really have to measure it and especially not by using your iPhone), you will be able to pin your fertility window down to a single day or two and will become far more accurate in predicting than any fertility app out there.
To find out when you ovulate:
(I love simple LH-strips but some women prefer digital measuring):
Lubricant (swimmer-friendly and not sticky) and early-response pregnancy test: