When I first started my career in fertility medicine and I would ask patients to share with me their “menstrual calendars” and “BBT” (basal body temperature) charts, out would come piles and piles of papers! Folders with pages of graphs and calendars with “Xs” and “Os” marking their periods and the day of ovulation would cover my desk. Based on this information, we would discuss when ovulation was likely occurring and the proper timing for intercourse to increase their chances of getting pregnant.
Fast forward to 2018. Now at CCRM New York, when I ask patients for information on their menstrual cycles, they reach into their bags and neatly pull out their smartphones. Their app of choice is opened, and we start our discussion! And while there are dozens of different fertility apps to choose from, almost all are based on the basic principles of what we have traditionally called the “Fertility Awareness Method” (aka FAM). FAM helps identify your fertile “window” based on the following: your period length (one period to the next), changes in cervical mucous, changes in cervical position and your basal body temperature (early morning body temp).
Almost all fertility apps ask you basic questions; however, some are more advanced and are linked to a thermometer, for example, that relays information to your app. There are even “fertility” watches that input data on your temperature, heart rate and sleep patterns into an app to help best identify your fertile window and calculate the optimal time to have intercourse to conceive.
Tracking your cycle can be incredibly helpful to individuals and couples who are just starting their journey to conceive. In fact, it may even be advantageous to start using a menstrual tracker in advance of when you actually want to conceive because many of these apps become even more accurate with the more data they have. However, while fertility apps can be helpful, I caution women from relying on these apps too heavily—they are not always 100% accurate, particularly for women who have irregular menses/ovulation. A visit to a fertility clinic like CCRM provides detailed results from blood work and an ultrasound, which trump the apps every time!
If you are under 35 and have been trying to conceive for over a year, or are over 35 and have been trying for more than six months, you should see a fertility specialist. Similarly, if you have erratic/irregular cycles, you should also see a specialist. So, while fertility apps are a helpful tool for those who are just starting this journey, they shouldn’t replace both the diagnostic and therapeutic tools that we have as fertility specialists.
Sheeva Talebian, M.D., is a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and Third Party Reproduction Director at CCRM New York.