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BYB Podcast: Period tracker apps

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(KUTV)-There are a lot of reasons for women to track their menstrual cycle. In the last few years a lot of period tracker smart phone apps have been developed. There’s even one in the health app standardly included on the iPhone.

Jade Elliott sat down with certified nurse midwife, Emily Hart Hayes from Intermountain Healthcare, to talk about reasons to track your menstrual cycle and whether the apps are reliable at predicting fertility or helping you get pregnant or avoid pregnancy on this episode of the Baby Your Baby Podcast.

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Why it’s a good idea for women to keep track their period

When you see a provider, they often ask for the date your last menstrual period started.

“In healthcare, asking when you last had a period is like taking a fifth vital sign. If you haven’t had a period in a while or they’ve been irregular, it may indicate pregnancy, perimenopause or menopause or be a signal to check for thyroid problems, polycystic ovaries, or other conditions,” says Hayes.

Apps can help you predict your period, but are they accurate?

“Tracking your period and entering that information into an app can be helpful at predicting your periods, especially if you’ve got pretty regular cycles that happen about once a month. If your menstrual cycles are irregular, it can be harder to predict,” says Hayes.

The more data you input, the better the app becomes at predicting your cycle. “An app can tell you your cycle is 30 days instead of the average of 28 days. The app may help you recognize that ovulation is not always on day 14 for example,” she adds.

Knowing when your period is likely to occur is helpful for planning and to help you manage your life activities: for example, if you know when you might have a pre-menstrual headache or irritability or when cramps may be at their worst you can make adjustments.

Be cautious about using a period tracker as your only form of birth control if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy

Using an app for natural family planning may or may not be a very effective form of birth control, especially if your menstrual cycles are irregular. Statistics show that fertility awareness methods like using the apps are only about 60-85 percent effective, because it’s difficult to predict fertility and abstain from sex during potentially fertile days. If you’re relying on the period tracking apps for contraception, it’s important to understand the relatively high chance of an unplanned pregnancy. “I always recommend women take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid if they are using fertility awareness methods like a smartphone app as their form of birth control due to the higher chances of an unplanned pregnancy,” Hayes says. “Understand the implications of only using a natural or calendar birth control method. If you 100 percent don’t want to get pregnant, you should use a second birth control method!” she adds.

There is an app called Natural Cycles that has been certified as a method of birth control by the European Union, but it relies on a very sensitive basal body thermometer, and it’s still significantly less effective than other forms of birth control.

Using the app to try to get pregnant

If you’re trying to get pregnant, the app could help you predict the range of days ovulation is likely to occur. Again, if your cycles are regular, that is easier to predict. The app can track the days between your period and ovulating. You’ll want to track your period for a few cycles to get more data. You are more likely to get pregnant if you time intercourse during the first half of your cycle in the days leading up to ovulation.

Some women can use the calendars included in period tracker apps along with tracking other symptoms of fertility. “Cervical fluid becomes stretchy and clear when you are about to ovulate. Sperm can live up to five days in the cervical fluid present during ovulation,” says Hayes.

“Using apps or the calendar method to get pregnant is more effective if combined with measuring your basal body temperature, which is a few tenths of a degree higher after you’ve ovulated,” says Hayes. You can also use ovulation predictor kits to detect ovulation. These are available to purchase over the counter.

“It’s good to keep in mind that during the postpartum or breastfeeding period, you may not be ovulating or have regular periods,” she adds, “so the apps may not be very accurate at predicting your period and ovulation.”

There are many period apps – check the privacy terms

Some period tracker apps include: Eve, Ovia, Period Calendar, Period Diary, My Calendar, Flo Period, and even the My Health app that comes standard on iPhones allows you to input your menstrual cycle info. Most apps are essentially the same.

Read and understand the privacy terms you’re agreeing too. You may or may not want to input your sexual activity information.

For the contraception podcast mentioned during this podcast, click here.

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The Baby Your Baby program provides many resources for all pregnant women and new moms in Utah. There is also expert advice from the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare that air each week on KUTV 2News.