What you need to know about Period Apps.
If you're getting into fertility awareness or want to tune in to how your body works, you're gonna want a tool that helps you keep track of your cycle.
When I teach Fertility Awareness I recommend starting with a simple paper chart - it’s easy to use, cost-free and honestly it’s all that you need to accurately keep track of your fertility.
So first off you can download a paper chart and use it as a place to store the data you collect about your body.
Download your free paper chart here
Since we often have our phones in our pockets an App can be a convenient way to collect your fertility data.
But the "Fem-tech" industry is getting flooded with Apps and period trackers to chart your cycle.
This is great in some ways- more people tuning in and building awareness of how their body works, but on the flip side Apps aren't usually created by Fertility Awareness Educators and not all apps are created with your privacy or safety in mind.
So I’m going to share with you the two major things to look out for when you are choosing your fertility App and then we’ll check out a couple of Apps that I do recommend working with.
First thing to be aware of.
1. YOUR PRIVACY
In order to use a Fertility App you enter sensitive information including; your cervical mucus secretions, your basal body temperature, your sleep schedule and intimate details about your sex life.
So the big question here is:
What is the App company doing with your data?
Privacy in technology is a massive field and I certainly am no expert in this regard - but I do want to flag that App companies can and do sell your data to advertisers and marketers.(1)
So apart from annoying ads popping up on your socials when you haven’t told anyone your fertility goals - is there a problem with Apps having access to your data?
Dena Mendelsohn a senior counsel member from Consumer Report is concerned that having your health data shared in ways you’re not aware of can have serious consequences...
“It could impact your ability to obtain life insurance, how much you pay for your coverage, and even leave you vulnerable to workplace discrimination." (1).
Can App companies legally share or sell your data?
In a word - yes.
What keeps your private health information safe with your health practitioner doesn't apply to Cycle tracking Apps, that's because Apps don't need to comply with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) a federal law that limits where healthcare providers can share your information.
Even though it may seem like a bore - it’s really important to check in with the nitty gritty of your App and find out what they do with your info.
What data are they gathering?
How long will they store your data?
Who are they sharing it with?
What happens to your data when you get a new phone, update or delete their App?
And keep in mind: if you aren't spending money purchasing your App - how does the App company make money? (spoiler: selling your data!)
This is the other App RED FLAG!
Your fertility is not an algorithm.
When Apps predict your fertile days they are using an algorithm - based on your previous cycles as well as other cycles in their database - to guess the timing of your fertility.
Even Apps that use thermometers to confirm ovulation has happened (like Daysy and Natural Cycles) are still making predictions about your fertile window.
In practice that means your App could tell you that you’re infertile when you're actually fertile.
This puts you at risk for unintended pregnancy.
Why aren't Apps reliable predictors of fertility?
Ovulation is not a static process.
It's the result of complex hormonal signaling that starts in the brain and works it's way down to your ovaries.
Your hormonal (endocrine) system is stress sensitive and responds to changes in your body and in your environment.
Stress, disrupted sleep, medications, alcohol, travel and illness all impact your menstrual cycle, which means...
The timing of ovulation can change from cycle-cycle.
This is why the sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness is based on two biological signs - cervical mucus and your temperature.
Cervical mucus tells you that you’re in your fertile window - and getting ready to ovulate.
Your temperature rise confirms that ovulation did indeed happen.
If a stressful event, illness or new medication is introduced before you ovulate - your body may delay ovulation.
An App based on readings from your previous cycles can not track changes to your fertility and will go on to incorrectly predict your ovulation, putting you at risk for an unintended pregnancy.
An App can’t tell what’s happening in your body today.
But you can.
That’s why learning to understand your own fertile signs is the key to managing your fertility.
WHICH APPS TO USE?
OK - all that said - I use an App for charting and you might like to aswell.
These are the two Apps that as a Fertility Awareness Educator I use and feel comfortable recommending to clients.
Can be used with sympto-thermal Fertility Awareness.
Has useful resources for Fertility Charting.
You will need to turn off predictive functions
Non-profit App created by cycle charters for cycle charters.
Can be used with sympto-thermal Fertility Awareness.
Total privacy - can not see, share or sell your data.
Small cost $1.99 per month or $14.99/year (USD)
There are SO MANY Apps out there and I’m not across them all -but while we're here I want to make it clear - I do not recommend Clue, Flo, Natural Cycles or Daysy.
A note on Natural Cycles & Daysy
These Devices use algorithms to predict your fertile window based on your temperature readings.
Your temperature rise tells you that ovulation has occurred - it's what we call a retrospective sign (you know afterwards).
Your body will secrete cervical mucus in the lead up to ovulation.
And sperm can survive for up to 5 days in the presence of cervical mucus. (Cervical mucus is prospective - it tells you fertility is happening now).
So your temperature rise confirms ovulation has happened - not when it’s about to happen and that means...
Your temperature can’t predict ovulation.
If you have unprotected sex in the five days leading up to ovulation and cervical mucus is present - it is possible for you to conceive.
Since your ovulation can shift from cycle-cycle, Apps that predict your fertile window based on previous cycles are inaccurate and put you at risk for unintended pregnancy.
I thought Daysy had been researched?
While the Daysy device still claims a high level of efficacy, their published research was retracted in 2019 due to fundamental flaws in the methodology and the company that manufactures Daysy is currently under legal investigation (2,3,4,5).
But isn’t Natural Cycles a medical device?
Clara Bailey, Australian Naturopath and Fertility Educator highlights -
while Natural Cycles claim they are a Class IIb medical device (CE0123) for use as a contraceptive, Natural Cycles fail to mention that medical device classification is based on risk, and that the IIb device classification poses a “medium-high level of risk” to the user.
For more regarding Daysy and Natural Cycles read Clara Baileys article linked below.
The bottom line.
As a FAM Educator I can't get behind technology that isn't grounded in your bodies fertility signs.
Predictive Apps and Devices encourage you to trust technology over witnessing your own body.
This creates tech-dependency, introduces a slew of ethical and privacy issues and reinforces the idea that you need someone else or something else to validate your experience.
For me - Fertility Awareness is reproductive empowerment.
But I hear you - getting started with Fertility Awareness can feel daunting, and if you can't rely on Apps where do you start?
Save your money on expensive Apps and devices and invest it in a class or session (or three) with a trained Fertility Awareness Educator.
Learning to understand your cycle is a life-long skill that no App can ever replace.
Trust your body.
Clara Bailey - The Good Bad and Ugly of Fertility Apps
Fertility Awareness Project - Choosing Apps and Thermometers
Rosato (2020) What your period tracker app knows about you. Consumer Reports. https://www.consumerreports.org/health-privacy/what-your-period-tracker-app-knows-about-you/
Lee (2019) A $330 Thermometer Claimed To Be 99.4% Accurate In Preventing Pregnancy. But The Study It Was Based On Just Got Retracted. Buzzfeed Science. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/stephaniemlee/daysy-fertility-tracker-science-retraction
Polis (2018) Published analysis of contraceptive effectiveness of Daysy and DaysyView app is fatally flawed. Reproductive health. https://reproductive-health-journal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12978-018-0560-1
Polis (2019) Retraction Note: Improving usability and pregnancy rates of a fertility monitor by an additional mobile application: results of a retrospective efficacy study of Daysy and DaysyView app https://reproductive-health-journal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12978-019-0728-3