Tracking your period

Are period tracker apps effective for birth control?

By Barbara Pierce

You may have seen ads for period tracker apps or heard your friends mention that they’re ovulating and you wondered how they could possibly know.

Periods usually come every month (about every 28 days), but the exact date and intensity are not that consistent. Sometimes, symptoms like sore breasts, cramps, back pains, bloating, mood swings or more may start weeks before your period starts. And, for some women, their cycle may be longer or shorter than the average of five days.

That’s why the app market is flooded with period trackers that aim to offer insight into your monthly cycle. Some apps even tell you what days you have a high or low risk of getting pregnant.

“There are a lot of period-tracker apps available,” said Emma Corbett, vice president of marketing, communications, and engagement, Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson.

“They’re useful for a number of reasons — to track your menstrual cycles and to track your symptoms. It keeps an electronic diary so you can provide your doctor with information to get you the care you need,” she said.

But many young women are using them as a natural birth control method. Millennials, at least, love tracking things. And some are using period-tracker apps as a natural way to avoid pregnancy. Hormonal birth control can affect a woman’s mood, weight, and hormonal balance. Many young women have either stopped or are considering stopping birth control pills, found a survey by Cosmopolitan Magazine.

While these apps may be good at predicting your cycle, can they be used as a replacement for birth control?

“These apps can be useful if you want to become pregnant, but as a means of preventing pregnancy, they aren’t useful,” said Corbett. “It’s not an effective kind of birth control and not reliable compared to other methods.”

“Most effective for birth control are IUDs,” she added. An IUD (intrauterine device) is a small T-shaped device that is placed into the uterus by a health care provider. The cervix keeps it in place. Once it is in, you cannot feel it.

“IUDs are 99% effective in preventing pregnancy,” she added. “They can remain in for three to 12 years. Once it is removed, you can get pregnant within a couple of days or weeks.”

“Condoms are only 85% effective, as not everyone uses them correctly,” she commented.

“Birth control is not a ‘one-size-fits-all,’” she explained. “There are a lot of options for you to choose from. It depends on what you have going on in your life.”

Many birth control options

“Anyone can come into our clinics and discuss what will work for them,” Corbett noted. “We have all methods of birth control available — including IUDs, implants, birth control shots, hormonal and non-hormonal choices. There are lots of options. Come into any one of our clinics to discuss what will work for you.”

Hormonal birth control refers to birth control pills, and patch and the vaginal ring that contain synthetic forms of hormones. These hormones work to inhibit the body’s natural cyclical hormones to prevent pregnancy.  A doctor must prescribe hormonal birth control.

In addition to IUDs, non-hormonal options include barrier methods, such as the condom, sponge, cervical cap, diaphragm or spermicide.

Planned Parenthood has locations in Oneida (315-363-3950), Rome (315-378-8552), and Utica (315-724-6146) or see https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-mohawk-hudson.

Period-tracking apps can be useful, as Corbett said. They help you to learn more about your cycle and plan for future periods. Like Tampax.com says online, “When it comes to answering the question, ‘When will I get my period?’ the Tampax Period Tracker & Calendar keeps you in the know. Use our period cycle tracking tool to plan around special occasions like a wedding (no feeling bloated on your big day), choose dates for a trip (be the worry-free beach bum you want to be), and track ovulation (fingers crossed!).”

But if you really want to avoid pregnancy, don’t rely on a period- tracking app. Marketing for one of the apps has promoted its app as a “hormone-free, intelligent” and “effective” birth control. This has garnered criticism of being “irresponsible” by women who claim to have become pregnant while using the app.

For a woman who has an average menstrual cycle of 28 days that occurs regularly, her fertility window is probably somewhere between day 12 to 16, experts say. But many women do not have a 28-day cycle.

And, there’s always the chance of having an “off period.” That’s why they don’t recommend using a period-tracker app as a replacement for a contraceptive.

Even if your period has been consistently on time, your ovulation window can be thrown off by factors such as stress, exercise, sickness or changes in your body.

If you want to avoid hormonal birth control methods, there are many non-hormonal options. Talk to your health care professional about what will work for you. Don’t rely on a period-tracking app.

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