We live in a time where we hear, "There's an app for that!" almost daily. Apps can be incredibly useful, powerful tools that streamline many different areas of our lives, but can they help with the ability to conceive?
There are currently a wide array of trying to conceive apps on the market that advertise they help people "get pregnant faster" or "increase one's chances of conception." These apps cost anywhere from nothing to $375 (if it includes a fertility monitor that syncs to the app) and could be tracking anything from a user's body basal temperature, menstrual dates, mood, or sexual activity to the consistency of one's cervical mucus. The overall idea is to gain insight from this data, and through the technology of a smart phone and an algorithm, built by someone who doesn't know about a user's fertility history, inform an individual about her fertile window.
False sense of insight
Ovulation tracking apps are convenient tools, but can misinform people who are trying to conceive and put them into harmful habits. A recent study done by Weill Cornell Medical College and published in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that apps and websites that track a woman's menstrual cycle differed when it came to predicting a woman's fertility window by a variance of between four to 12 days. Of the more than 50 fertility calculators studied, only one website and three apps precisely predicted the user's correct fertility window. By giving an estimate and not the exact fertile window can cause users to have intercourse on the wrong day which can lead to forming a negative routine. So why should we rely on apps that are only partially accurate?
One of the biggest concerns with relying on apps is the increased chance of delaying a medical workup with a gynecologist, urologist or fertility doctor (reproductive endocrinologist) to see if there might be an underlying problem. Many don't realize how common infertility is. In fact, one in six couples in the U.S. are infertile and an app won't be able to account for irregular periods, fibroids, endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), low sperm count or morphology issue. While keeping a record of when a couple is having intercourse, the user may be missing a more valuable piece of information integral to getting pregnant.
Time is of the essence
Women today are delaying childbirth. According to a recent study by the CDC, one in five women are having their first child after 35 years old. This is important because a female's age and egg quality always needs to be considered when achieving pregnancy is concerned. Most women hit their fertile peak between their twenties to their early thirties, so if a woman is over the age of 38, for example, and using an app to track her fertile window while there's an underlying issue, she may be losing crucial and valuable time.
The rule of thumb is, if a woman is younger than 35 years old and does not have a pre-existing conditions and hasn't become pregnant after one year of unprotected sex; or, if a woman is 35 years old or older, and after about six months of trying to conceive, it's time to consult a reproductive endocrinologist. Waiting longer than these guidelines set forth by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine could impact their likelihood of success.
An app can't replace a medical professional
When a couple seeks a medical professional to evaluate their fertility, the medical expert will typically perform an analysis of the male partner's sperm (count, motility and morphology), perform an ultrasound to check structures such as fallopian tubes and the uterus (whether there are fibroids, polyps or any blockage as well as provide an Antral Follicle Count (AFC) which correlates with the number of eggs a woman has) and draw blood to look at the hormone levels on one or both partners. A preconception genetic carrier screening may also be performed to detect if there's any potential genetic issues such as Tay-Sachs disease, fragile X syndrome, sickle cell or cystic fibrosis.
The results of these tests will assist the doctor in formulating the best course of treatment that will provide for the optimal chances of achieving a successful pregnancy. There isn't an app on the market that can provide that level of insight or affirmation of one's fertility health. The more information one knows, the more he or she can fully explore all of the family building options available whether it's insemination, in vitro or the corresponding technology such as pre-genetic screening (PGS) which can decrease the risk of having a miscarriage.
The fertility industry is already difficult to navigate and using a tracker app won't solve the issue. Instead, people should check in with their appropriate healthcare professionals and educate themselves on the possibilities and opportunities of having or expanding their family. As the famous adage goes, knowledge is power.