What if there was an app that could help you get pregnant? Oh wait, there are hundreds of them. But do they really have the magic algorithm you need to conceive?
If you're serious about TTC (that's trying to conceive, for the non-serious) you probably have a fertility app downloaded to your phone. There are tons of them, including Glow, Fertility Friend, Conceivable and Dot, which can make choosing one overwhelming. Some ask that you give them lots of info, including your cervical position (what?), consistency of cervical mucus (um, OK?) and your waking temperature. Others just request the first day of your period. They seem like a great tool, but they can bring on anxiety and might not even be accurate. Here's what you need to know before downloading.
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They're less likely to work if you have irregular cycles
Apps can't predict the future—they can only tell you what they think will happen based on your past cycles. "These apps function solely on the idea that the cycle is going to repeat itself, so they are best suited for women with regular cycles," Mazen Abdallah, MD, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital, and the medical director of the Houston Fertility Institute, tells Fit Pregnancy. If you get your period at the same time each month, they will be more on target. "Because they can't predict ovulation except based on past patterns, they're less effective for women with irregular cycles," he says. If you have wonky periods or are having trouble conceiving, consult a doctor instead of an app.
Don't wait until the app says you're ovulating to have sex
Because your app might not be exactly correct—even women with regular cycles might have natural variations that could throw it off—it's best to just have as much sex as possible. "It is unclear how accurate these apps are at determining the fertile window," Abdallah says. "Research has shown with other ovulation predicting techniques your chance of pregnancy is not any higher than if you were having frequent intercourse two to three times per week, regardless of timing." Even Leslie Heyer, founder of Cycle Technologies, which makes the Dot, iCycleBeads and TwoDay Method apps, says not to get hung up on pinpointing ovulation. "If an app tells you that you'll 'ovulate in five days,' don't believe it," she says. "Far too often women will wait thinking that they have to have intercourse on an exact day or two around ovulation. They end up missing their most fertile days." So get busy!
Pinpointing Fertile Days
Knowing the science behind the app might help you
There are two types of preggo hopefuls—those who want to know everything about TTC and those who don't want to get too stressed about it. If you're one of the former, knowing the science behind your fertile signals may help you better use your app. "Understanding the basics of the body is important for inputting the information and managing expectations when using these apps," Clara Ward, MD, a maternal-fetal specialist with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital, tells Fit Pregnancy. "They can help a woman improve her understanding of her cycles or provide a sense of control." So read up on why your app is asking for cervical mucus reports (FYI: It helps sperm move along) before collecting all the seemingly random info.
Then again, you might not need to know much at all
If you're a laid-back TTCer, complicated apps that record every detail of your body are probably not for you. "Studies show that when something is easy to use, a person is much more likely to use it consistently and correctly over time," Heyer says. A "less is more" app like Dot that asks for only one piece of info—the start date of your period—might work better for you in keeping track of your cycle. Abdallah says women should pick the one they're most comfortable using. "Everyone's case is different," Ward says. "These apps shouldn't provoke anxiety."
It's not clear if apps actually help you get pregnant faster
Fertility apps are a modern method of the old-fashioned "charting," but the research is not there yet to show if they actually speed up getting knocked up. "Most fertility apps operate on the basic scientific understanding of the menstrual cycles, but details and variations are more of a challenge for them to factor in," Ward says. Heyer says the Dot app is currently undergoing the first ever efficacy study on a mobile fertility app, with Georgetown University, so we might have more answers soon.