Trying to conceive? Here's what ob-gyns think about ovulation trackers.
Trying to conceive can be a complicated process for some families. And, if you're not able to get pregnant as quickly as you'd like, it makes sense to want to do what you can to increase your odds of success in the future. That's when some people turn to ovulation trackers.
On a basic level, ovulation trackers are designed to help signal when a woman is ovulating, that is, has an egg that's available to be fertilized. Every tracker is slightly different, though (more on that later), and new options are entering the market all the time. For example, Apple just announced that its Apple Watch Series 8 has a temperature sensor that can tell women when they are ovulating. Peter Thiel's investment firm is also backing a company called 28, which is a "femtech" business that "aims to connect women to the hormonal phases of their menstrual cycle for physical and emotional gain."
It's worth noting that while many people use ovulation trackers to try to conceive, others tap into them as a form of nonhormonal birth control to signal the fertile times of the month when women should avoid sex.
Whether you're trying to have a baby or looking to avoid parenthood altogether, it's understandable to have questions about these products and how they work. Here's what you need to know.
First, a recap on how ovulation works
Ovulation is part of the menstrual cycle, which is the monthly process of changes that occur in a woman's body to prepare for a possible pregnancy, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
In a typical menstrual cycle, an ovary releases an egg in a process called ovulation. Ovulation typically happens around 14 days after the start of the next menstrual cycle, ACOG explains. The egg then travels through a woman's fallopian tubes, where it may be fertilized by a sperm cell and possibly lead to a pregnancy. If not, the woman will shed her uterine lining a few days later in what's known as menstrual bleeding, aka a period.
How does ovulation technology work?
Ovulation technology varies. Some tech, like the Apple Watch, use temperature as an indicator of when a woman is about to ovulate. A woman's temperature may rise slightly — a half degree to a full degree — before she ovulates, ACOG explains, and this tech aims to detect that temperature increase.
Others, like the Flo app, use math to try to determine when you're most likely to ovulate based on the date of your last period. And some, like the $205 Mira, use urine strips to try to identify a surge of hormones, including the luteinizing hormone (LH), which increases right before you ovulate.
And there's even one — the $99 OvuSense OvuCore Fertility Monitor — that you insert into your vagina and wear overnight before getting readings on an app on your phone.
How accurate is ovulation technology?
It depends. OvuSense, for example, says that its OvuCore monitor can predict ovulation up to 24 hours in advance with 96% accuracy and can confirm that you're ovulating with 99% accuracy. Mira also claims to offer 99% accuracy. But doctors say most women really don't need to spend their money on these sometimes pricey gadgets.
While ovulation technology can be "very helpful if you're just starting to try to conceive," the type of tracker you use can be less reliable if you don't have regular, 28-day cycles, Dr. Jane Frederick, a reproductive endocrinologist and medical director at HRC Fertility, tells Yahoo Life. "If you have irregular cycles, it can be tough to know if you're ovulating," she adds.
Dr. Jenna Turocy of Columbia University Fertility Center tells Yahoo Life that these kits and apps are "great tools," noting that "they can help predict when you are the most fertile — i.e., the best time to have sex when trying to conceive." But, like Frederick, Turocy notes that the tech may not work as well for women with irregular cycles, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or a very low number of eggs.
A lot of the accuracy of this tech "depends on the tool and if it is used correctly," women's health expert Dr. Jennifer Wider tells Yahoo Life. "No device or app is 100% foolproof or accurate," she adds.
Wider cautions against ovulation technology giving a "false sense of security" to people trying to conceive. "These apps and devices can help make someone more aware of their cycle but shouldn't replace a visit with a doctor to discuss birth control and family planning," she says.
Doctors are also wary of using ovulation technology as a form of nonhormonal birth control. "I wouldn't use it for birth control," Dr. Christine Greves, an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, tells Yahoo Life. "If you're using one of these to avoid pregnancy, use a backup like a condom, just in case."
What to do if you want to track your ovulation
If you want to track your ovulation, you can definitely try ovulation technology. "There's really no harm in using it, other than cost," Greves says. However, she points out, you can determine when you'll have an LH surge simply by using urinary test strips that you can buy at your local drugstore. The popular Pregmate strips are sold at Walmart for $10.95 for 25 — and that's far cheaper than investing in ovulation technology.
Your age matters too. "If you're 35 to 40, I would only use these tools for six months and then seek treatment if you're not pregnant yet," Frederick says. "If you're over 40, it's better to just come in and seek treatment right away so we can figure out what's going on."
In a post-Roe v. Wade world, Turocy recommends being mindful of your personal health data and how it's used. "Period-tracking apps store very personal health data, which show when a period starts and stops and when a pregnancy starts and stops," she says. "Some are worried this kind of data could be suggestive of an abortion and could be subpoenaed or sold to a third party." While Turocy says that the decision to use a period-tracking app is "personal," she stresses that "you may want to consider your own personal beliefs and the laws in your state" before going this route.
If you have questions about tracking your ovulation and trying to conceive, Greves says it's a good idea to check in with your doctor. They can help guide you on next steps.
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