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May 18, 2014

Can a mobile app help you get pregnant?

Geeky approach to conceiving - pick your own ovulation tracking app

By Vinod

Given up all hopes of becoming pregnant due to unexplained fertility? Tired of overbearing doctor visits or stockpiling thousands of pages of advice books, and trying to mug through them all without gagging on all the conflicting pointers? Switch to the sophisticated smartphone apps that promise new hope for couples.

Fertility problems are estimated to affect one in seven couples in the UK. About 84% of couples who have regular unprotected sex conceive within a year, while the rest are diagnosed as infertile.

From this infertile couples’ group, about a quarter are diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility,’ where no reasons or explanations are forthcoming.

But evolving technology has made life easier for such couples in the form of pregnancy and ovulation tracking apps, and wearable sensors. These apps gather data from a large pool of women and offer information to look for broader clues and patterns about lifestyle and health factors that affect fertility.

Ovia Fertility from Ovuline, and Glow are two such apps. The apps enable women to input information about their daily body temperature measurements in the morning, periods cycle, emotional and mental state, and also helps track sexual activity and sexual positions.

This information is then used by the apps to offers tips to users; Glow calculates the probability of a woman getting pregnant on any one day, and send reminders about a woman’s most fertile period.

Manufacturers of these apps claim that with their apps, users are able to conceive within 60 days, in stark contrast to the national average of four to six months.

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Advocating such apps, a user said, "I think these apps are really good for people who can’t have sex regularly for whatever reason, or who don’t really understand their cycle due to not understanding the science or not having regular periods."

The currently available apps are also compatible with food diaries and activity trackers, allowing data to be used to look for other possible factors in conception.

Such apps reportedly have found many takers in the market. Ovuline claims a customer base which is steadily rising by 20% each month, although there are many who have simply given up after months of feeding information daily.

DuoFertility, launched in 2009 by Cambridge Temperature Concepts, is an interesting wearable technology, which makes use of "big data" analytics and advances in sensor technology.

Users are required to wear a sensor on their skin under the arm, which monitors very small changes in body temperature and detect the small increase in temperature associated with ovulation.

This technology has done away with the need for taking reading manually at the same time every morning. DuoFertility also offers a personal support and analysis service for each couple, such as giving ‘advance’ warnings of when to try.

The service, which was approved by US authorities in 2012, is marketing itself as a viable alternative to In vitro fertilisation (IVF) claims to offer 12.5% pregnancy rate in UK. But at the same time it maintains that the device is not for those with serious health issues and will not necessarily work on all cases with unexplained infertility.

Other such popular apps include Clue, a free fertility monitoring app that uses an algorithm to track cycle and pinpoint ‘fertile window;’ Free Menstrual Calendar from Fertility Friend, an online resource for fertility planning and tracking; and Period Tracker, which has been described as the ‘ultimate menstrual monitor.’

But medical opinion is still divided on the efficacy of such technologies over traditional methods.

Dr Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at the University of Sheffield, says, "Women have charted their menstrual cycles in a diary or put notes in a calendar for years."

"Apps that allow you to input that are just an electronic diary. If you want to use an iPhone rather than a pen and paper that’s fine. The question is, how much will it help?"

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