Before Switching to a Fertility App, Consider This
Tired of the side-effects you’re experiencing from your hormonal birth control? Mulling over the idea of switching to a fertility app, such as Natural Cycles, which promises effective, hormone-free contraception?
As a Fertility Awareness educator, I want to encourage you to consider such a move very seriously, but want to suggest you take one detour on your journey from hormonal contraception to a fertility-charting app—a detour that will empower you to really understand how your unique cycle functions.
As the first FDA-approved natural contraception, Natural Cycles has certainly broken new ground for Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (FABM) and its developers should be applauded for their work. The research, the “largest prospective effectiveness study of a Fertility Awareness-Based Method and the first prospective study on the effectiveness of an app,” that earned Natural Cycles their FDA-approval shows that their algorithm is highly effective. The issue, however, is that women who choose to rely on apps like Natural Cycles, rely on the company’s proprietary algorithm to determine if they are fertile on a given day instead of relying on her own observation of her naturally occurring biomarkers.
Where Apps Can Fall Short
I don’t want to pick on Natural Cycles, they have done something no other app has—gotten FDA approval for a Fertility Awareness-Based Method—which is really encouraging since there are quite a few really bad fertility apps on the market. There are multiple apps out there that could actually hinder a woman’s ability to effectively use a Fertility Awareness-Based Method as the apps’ “fertile window predictions” are based on the calendar rhythm method’s algorithm which has been superseded by modern FABM research decades ago. Some better designed apps also exist based on modern FABMs research, but still these will work well for a couple that has already learned the official method from an instructor first.
As an instructor of the Sympto-Thermal method (a cross-checking FABM that utilizes observations of both a woman’s cervical fluid and her basal body temperature), I love to watch women (and their partners) become empowered by the knowledge and understanding they gain of a woman’s fertility as they learn to chart. They learn what precisely to observe, how to record this information, and the rules they need to know to interpret their fertility. In other words, they don’t solely rely on a computer’s algorithm to know if they are fertile. The more months they chart, the more confident they become in their own ability to know the status of their fertility.
Women Will Always Be Smarter Than Their Smartphones
So, for couples who have already learned a FABM method of charting, fertility apps are a great resource for electronic charting, especially since many offer the option for both of them to log in and view their fertility data. And if they choose an app that aligns with the method they practice and it offers interpretation of the data they’ve entered, they gain a second opinion on when their fertile window opens and closes which can be a great confidence booster as they learn the method. But because they learned a method, with an instructor first, they will understand their fertility even if they lose their smartphone. This is important, because a woman will always be smarter than her smartphone.
If one of the reasons you are considering switching from hormonal contraception to a fertility app is a desire to get to know your body without extra hormones—go for it! It is amazing what you can learn about your body via charting. To gain a full understanding of your body’s cycle and enjoy the best FABM effectiveness rates of avoiding pregnancy, here’s what I’d suggest: First, find the method that best fits your needs and lifestyle by researching the different methods of FABMs that are available (you may find that a method which does not require you to take your temperature every day is a better fit for your current life situation). Then find an instructor online or in your area, learn the method, and confidently begin using the app you find the most intuitive for the method you practice. With these steps in place, you will be best equipped to trust the technology you’re using—as well as know what to do should your phone ever die on you.
Contreras, Alison, PhD. “Don’t Discount that Natural Cycles App (part 1)” https://www.factsaboutfertility.org/dont-discount-that-natural-cycles-app-part-1/ (accessed 5 March 2019)