Do Pregnancy Planning Apps Really Work?

Can these types of apps accurately help women plan pregnancy or aid in contraception?

In today's modern society there is an app for everything. Some of the most popular ones for women can be pregnancy and period tracking apps. These can be used for a variety of reasons -- some women use them to track ovulation and fertility windows to increase their chances of becoming pregnant and other women may use them as a form of contraception. 

The increasing popularity of these apps could be due to the individualistic approach -- women can enter the dates of their last period cycle and the app will generate the next predicted cycle as well as a fertility window and date of ovulation. While this may appear to be accurate -- the reality is that it most likely is not. If the app tells a woman the dates of her fertile window, this does not mean a pregnancy will follow. 

There are a number of factors that affect a woman’s fertility and menstrual cycle, which apps typically cannot predict. We will look at…

  • How these apps are programmed 
  • Why they may not be accurate
  • How to best determine fertility 

How Fertility Apps Works

They Run on Algorithms

Some of the most popular pregnancy planning apps
These are some of the current fertility apps on the market. Image courtesy of Euronews.

Like many other apps, fertility and pregnancy planning apps run on an algorithm. That is, most of these apps run on a 28 day cycle, while all women may not experience a 28 day cycle. The American Pregnancy Association explains that the average length of a woman’s cycle is 28-32 days. 

A woman’s period may come late or even the next month due to a number of physical and emotional factors: 

  • Weight gain/loss
  • Increase in exercise
  • Hormonal problems
  • Stopping birth control pills
  • Fatigue 
  • Stress 
  • Tension
  • Illness 

Many of these factors cannot be accounted for in an app. However, sometimes a woman may be able to add external factors to her menstrual cycle log -- such as mood, temperature, weight, symptoms, exercise and sleep. This information is usually not incorporated into the algorithm, and therefore still may not accurately predict your fertile window and day of ovulation. 

Typically, ovulation occurs right in the middle of the cycle, so an app will most likely mark the 14th day as the day of ovulation if it runs on a 28 day cycle. However, this may not be the same date that you ovulate if the app is not predicting the correct time frames.

Apps that give users the option to add physical and emotional factors may have better success. However, the catch is that the app must rely on the user to enter accurate information on a consistent basis. 

Why These Apps Might Not Work 

Many External Factors are Not Included

The journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health conducted a scoping study which included 18 relevant studies published between 2010-2019 in 13 different countries. They analyzed the data based on three themes -- six studies in fertility and reproductive health tracking, four in pregnancy planning and eleven in pregnancy prevention. 

The results found that women use these apps for different reasons that often change over time. They also disclude women, fertility specialists and other healthcare professionals from development of the app and lack consideration how someone may use it. 

Some studies concluded that fertility apps have been successfully used for contraception, but users should be cautious because not all apps include this feature. There has also been little discussion about how to regulate these apps. 

Overall, researchers explained that more studies need to be done to determine if pregnancy planning apps actually work because there is not enough evidence to draw a firm conclusion at this time. 

However, there may be some positives to using these apps. They can help women become more aware of their menstrual cycles if they are trying to plan a pregnancy or prevent one. It can help women keep track of when their periods should come and when their possible fertile windows are -- especially since women trying to get pregnant often haven’t logged this information in the past. 

Engaged male and female couple interlocking fingers
The goal of many couples is to achieve a pregnancy, which cannot be guaranteed by using a pregnancy planning app.

So, How Can You Best Track Your Fertility?

At Home Tests or Health Care Professionals are Key

The best way to determine when you are ovulating is to use an ovulation test kit. LH ovulation test strips work the same as an at home pregnancy test and can be found at local drugstores or ordered online. These can be some of the most accurate ways to tell if you are ovulating. 

You can also take an old-fashioned approach and turn to a calendar to help predict ovulation. You can mark the days of your cycle on the calendar as well as the dates when you have your period. This will determine the length as well as the beginning and end of a cycle, so ovulation should occur right in the middle. 

You may choose to look for physical symptoms of ovulation. Physical changes such as differences in vaginal secretions, change is basal body temperature, breast tenderness, light spotting or discharge, pelvic or abdominal pain and change in libido may all be indications that you are ovulating. 

It is recommended that if a pregnancy is not achieved after 6-12 months of trying, a couple should seek out a fertility doctor. This is the only way to determine if there is an underlying health problem that is affecting fertility. If there is no history of irregular periods, infertility, conditions such an endometriosis or an issue with sperm fertility, the couple should be seen sooner than 6-12 months. 

If you are not intending to get pregnant, these apps should not be relied on as forms of contraception and the user may risk an unplanned pregnancy. See a doctor to discuss your family planning and birth control options. 

The bottom line is if you are concerned about your chances of getting pregnant and how to best determine when they are or if you think you could be at risk for an unplanned pregnancy -- seek out a health care professional for the best advice on how to handle these situations. 

Maura McLay

Maura is a succulent and cacti enthusiast, pizza chef and cat mom.
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