A key benefit of the invention of smartphones and watches is the greater knowledge of our heart rates, daily activity, and the ability to micro-analyze our diets. Samsung even recently said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its Health Monitor app’s irregular heart rhythm notification (IHGN). 

A few years ago, the FDA also gave its stamp of approval to Natural Cycles, a non-hormonal fertility tracking company, which became the first app approved to market a pregnancy preventive service directly to consumers.

The advent of the contraceptive pill in the 1960s was a notable moment of achievement for the feminist movement; finally, women had control (or relative control) over their fertility. The benefit of chemical birth control, for many, still outweighs the slight risk of breast cancer, weight gain, depression, and blood clots, which are all spelled out on the rather large document that accompanies birth control prescription packages. 

While most women do not experience health complications or side effects from hormonal birth control, it is evident that some do. Unfortunately, they often feel dismissed by doctors when they mention symptoms during appointments. Since each brand of hormonal birth control and even the various types of IUDs have slightly different ingredients, it can sometimes take several years to determine the best option that suits one’s body.

According to the FDA, “Clinical studies to evaluate the effectiveness of Natural Cycles for use in contraception involved 15,570 women who used the app for an average of eight months. The app had a ‘perfect use’ failure rate of 1.8 percent.” 

Preventing pregnancy isn’t the only use for fertility apps. Fortunately, the same methods used to determine the best time to get pregnant can also indicate when you are least likely to conceive. Utilizing non-chemical methods for birth control can facilitate the transition for women from avoiding pregnancy to actively trying to conceive a baby.

Instead of transitioning off hormonal pills, undergoing minor surgery to remove an implant, or scheduling a doctor’s appointment to painfully remove an IUD, women can have greater confidence in preventing pregnancy without such medical interventions.

In high school, I recall the local Planned Parenthood staff visiting my health class and treating natural family planning with dismissive sarcasm. According to them, hormonal contraception or barrier options were considered the safest. To be fair, informing teenagers about the challenges of achieving pregnancy might not necessarily encourage them to exercise caution when engaging in sexual activity.

Thanks to smartphones, fertility tracking for controlling pregnancy has been repackaged and rebranded through various apps and kits, finding popularity amongst both religious and secular audiences. While fertility tracking was historically taught through books and seminars, Natural Cycles and its competitors now offer fertility tracking via smartphone apps, replacing paper calendars and tracking sheets. 

The growing popularity of fertility tracking apps provides insights into the potential benefits of integrating AI into health tracking. Moving forward, utilizing AI to analyze food intake or employing more advanced and affordable at-home medical tests will enable women to gain a better understanding of their unique challenges and fertility windows.