Practicing “Fertility Awareness” means more than just scoping out your fertile phases. It involves mapping out your entire cycle, including your fertile phases, your sorta fertile phases, and your not-so-fertile phases (every flavor of fertile, all phases).
Following your cycle closely over time can grow fertility awareness into fertility knowledge. Identifying patterns in and across your cycles can serve a range of purposes: It can help you get pregnant, help you avoid getting pregnant, or simply get you more acquainted with the natural ebb and flow of your reproductive schedule.
To harness this multi-purpose power, consider using a Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). FAMs incorporate cycle-tracking techniques that women have used for generations to help evaluate when it’s fertile time and/or party time.
FAMs seem to be getting more attention recently, so much so that a recent Atlantic article announced the “Return of the Rhythm Method.” (The rhythm method is a well-known name for one approach to fertility awareness.) Why the resurgence? One big reason: mobile technology, baby. I reviewed four cycle-tracking apps—Clue, Kindara, Ovia, and Glow—to help explain how tracking your cycle works, and to help you see if there’s a FAM (and an app) out there for you.
1. The Calendar Method + Clue
With the Calendar Method, you document the day your periods start and end along with the number of days between periods (your cycle). Beyond that, there’s a lot of math involved. That’s where the Clue app comes in—to help simplify. The Clue app practices the art of all FAMs mentioned here (using this combination of FAMs is called the “Symptothermal” method, which you can read more about below), but it’s particularly grand at its execution of the Calendar Method.
Clue’s dashboard shows your current cycle and allows you to input daily data.
How it works
Clue takes what you input as your last period start and end dates and forecasts fertility based on global health statistics.
Your dashboard displays your cycle and you can choose to see it in a cyclical display or a calendar display. Input each period, plus some additional info if you feel like it, and Clue starts to learn your personal pattern, improving its forecast with each cycle. It also features a library of default reminders for your period, your fertile window, your ovulation day, and more.
Despite any app’s awesomeness, using this method alone holds no guarantees—especially for those of us with unpredictable and inconsistent flows. That’s why Clue and other apps mentioned here allow you to input your daily basal body temperature (BBT) to improve the accuracy of their predictions.
Using BBT data to understand your fertility is referred to as the Temperature Method. If you’re looking to dig really deep (into your fertile soil, if you know what I mean), consider using the Calendar Method alongside the Temperature Method.
2. The Temperature Method + Kindara
You can learn a lot about your cycle from your body temperature, particularly your BBT. To get your BBT, you should take your temperature at a time when your body is at its most rested state—usually when you first wake up in the morning (before consuming the glory that is coffee).
To fully experience the beauty of the Temperature Method, you’ll need to get a BBT read that’s accurate right down to a fraction of a degree. So, throw your average thermometer out the window (just a phrase, not a real suggestion), and get a BBT thermometer at your local pharmacy. Or, wait until Spring 2015 for the full Kindara / Wink package.
Like Clue, Kindara includes different FAMs, but it stands out in terms of the Temperature Method thanks to the app’s introduction of a super smart counterpart BBT thermometer, “Wink”.
How it works
The Kindara app features a suite of data-logging tools to gain fertility insight, including:
A calendar to track your period and cycle;
A daily questionnaire to log your BBT, period flow, the state of your cervix, and more;
A chart tool to visually and clearly present your data over time to reveal fertility patterns; and
A community of other users who share tips and insights from their own experiences.
The people behind Kindara are in the process of releasing “Wink”, a super accurate BBT thermometer that automatically syncs with your Kindara app. You can pre-order it here.
Using the combination of the Temperature Method and the Calendar Method should start to reveal some patterns about your fertility, as you can see with Kindara’s chart feature. Kindara (like many other apps) also incorporates another method for even more informed revelations: the Cervical Mucus Method.
Kindara’s dashboard offers quick-and-easy input of your BBT.
3. The Cervical Mucus Method + Ovia
The, ahem, appropriately named Cervical Mucus Method involves investigating the physical form of your (you guessed it) cervical mucus, as well as determining the position and feel of your cervix. The Ovia app isn’t just about tracking cervical mucus, but it is particularly thorough in its mucus-tracking efforts compared to the other apps I reviewed. (I’d love to see what a trophy for “Most Thorough Mucus-Tracking” would look like. Or, I wouldn’t.)
Ovia’s dashboard displays timely information about the state of your cycle and a feed of miscellaneous diet and exercise recommendations.
How it works
Similar to Kindara, Ovia features a large suite of tracking tools. In fact, it’s a really, really huge suite: It asks you to enter a daily log of things as detailed as how many glasses of water you drank, how many servings of protein you had, how many steps you took, etc.
While the app’s attention to detail might not work best for those of us who favor a quick open-submit-close experience, its use of visuals and icons provide greater context for how to interpret the consistency of your cervical fluid. And, knowledge (about cervical fluid) is power.
Of course, the Cervical Mucus Method isn’t ideal for women who don’t produce much mucus. Either way, it will take time to get the hang of interpreting what your mucus means—it’s mucus. So, combine this method with other methods to start, or combine all the methods together. Which brings us to…
4. The Symptothermal Method + Glow
When you combine the Calendar Method, the Temperature Method, and the Cervical Mucus Method together, you get the Symptothermal Method. That’s some deep body math, people.
The Symptothermal Method is for the hardcore DIY fertility scientist inside of you who really wants to nail this thing down. Most fertility apps out there make use of the Symptothermal Method, but Glow does an especially great job of keeping it easy and fun.
Glow’s dashboard shows the current state of your cycle as well as an overview of your latest data log.
How it works
The Glow dashboard shows relevant information about your current cycle day and a prompt to log your basic information regarding temperature, periods, sex, and cervical mucus to form its fertility predictions.
The more you input over time, the more Glow learns about you. It then provides you with daily tips and statistics-based insights related to what you log about your lifestyle and your cycles.
Glow also features a lively community, the ability to set custom reminders, and even the ability to share your fertility progress with your partner. Except, it doesn’t have a cool BBT thermometer counterpart… yet?
If you want to use a FAM for birth control…
If you’re serious about relying on a FAM for pregnancy prevention, it’s always a good idea to use a non-hormonal back-up method like condoms while you’re getting the hang of tracking your cycle. You’ll also need a back-up method—even if it’s just not having sex, though that can be a challenging one—to use during your “fertile window.”
If you want to validate how well you’re using your FAM, you can always purchase an ovulation test and/or fertility monitor. If you want to learn more about fertility awareness and FAMs in general, check out our article that explains the basics of fertility tracking, or visit the site of fertility expert Toni Weschler, which goes into depth about “Taking Charge of Your Fertility.”
And if you have an app you love for fertility tracking, tell us about it in the comments. Happy new-age cycle-tracking!