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A recent catch-up with some girlfriends revealed news that kind of had me floored: Almost all of them were using a period-tracking app, and—judging by the breathless exchange of information that followed—they each swear by the different benefits of their respective apps.
As a newbie to the whole tracking-your-period-trend (forgive me, but I didn’t realize we were using our smartphones for that now too), I asked what the benefit of an app was compared with the old-school combination of a calendar and your memory. The answers were varied: Some of my friends were using the technology simply to make sure they weren’t late, while others tracked changes in their moods, acne, and cramps so they could proactively approach symptoms the following month.
Jennifer Tye, head of partnerships and marketing at Glow (one of the major women’s health app companies), said this kind of accurate insight is a common benefit women expect from tracking apps: “My favorite Glow feature is the insights—health facts that are delivered right after a user finishes logging. The insights are unique to each user’s health that day, are personalized for each user, and are compiled from our medical advisory board.”
Because the information is so accurate, it gives users an opportunity to switch up their behaviors and address symptoms of PMS the following month. “For example, if you’re on the second day of your period, you might get an insight about how vitamin B6 (found in fish like salmon) is like a little miracle; it helps relieve exhaustion, mood swings, water retention, and even bloating,” said Tye. She added that if you log in a specific type of pain during your period, you could get a recommendation to visit a doctor about potential endometriosis.
Other women are using cycle-tracking technology to work out when they’re most fertile—either as a contraceptive measure or to aid in getting pregnant. “I decided to start using a cycle tracker when I made the decision to come off synthetic contraceptives. Now I love using it, as it helps me to understand the natural occurrences of my body; for example, why I feel more motivated or exhausted at certain times during the month,” explained Annabel, at 26-year-old nurse who’s been using the free Period Tracker app for nearly six months.
There are also apps that drill into the nitty-gritty of your sex life, going beyond your basic cycle to tackle sexual, menstrual, and reproductive health topics like birth control, contraception, ovulation, fertility, and menstruation.
Not sure which app’s for you? We break down six of the most popular here to get you started.
Period Tracker (free)
It might be free, but compared with all the other period-tracking apps out there—including the paid services—I definitely think Period Tracker is the most informative. Yes, it’s very purple, but with a calendar, easy color-coded icons for noteworthy days (like when you’re ovulating), detailed graphs to spot changes, and alerts for when you’re most fertile, the platform is designed to help all women out—whether you’re desperately trying to have a baby or desperately trying not to.
Here’s the NaturalCycles sell: “There are six days per cycle where you are at risk of getting pregnant. We find these days for you, scientifically!” So it’s clear this app is going to appeal to anyone wanting some extra contraceptive support or looking to get pregnant. My favorite aspect of this app—and why I’d consider continuing to pay for it once my free trial is up—is the calendar that breaks down your cycle very simply into red days and green days: Green means you’re fertile; red means you’re not. So it’s almost impossible to slip up. A full year will cost $69.90, or you can pay for three months at $9.90 per month. The first month is a free trial, so check it out.
This free ovulation calculator records your period, mood, symptoms, sex, and medications, and it won the 2014 Webby Award for best health and fitness app. While it’s incredibly informative and packed with cycle charts and weight monitoring, if you’re simply looking to avoid pregnancy, I do think that it feels overly complicated compared with NaturalCycles. However, it will remind you to take your birth control pill (useful!) and has a great community support feature so you can chat with like-minded women, if that’s what you’re after.
Also, if privacy is important to you, Glow might be the app for you: “Glow anonymizes all user data and uses SSL to further encrypt it. We will never sell our data or share user information,” explained Tye.
From the people who make Glow, Eve is full-service women’s health app that tackles broader topics like fertility, menstruation, contraception, and sex. I found the information is broken down in a really easy-to-understand way, and I like that scientific topics about sex and contraception are approached in a lighthearted manner (hello, banana illustrations). There’s also heaps of information and an engaged community of women you can connect with.
The refreshing absence of the color pink isn’t the only thing Clue has going for it: It will sync up with your Apple Watch, remind you when your period is coming, and notify you when you’re most likely to get pregnant. There are also places to input information about sex, period pain, mood, basal body temperature, and more.
If you’re looking for an app that will help you manage pregnancy (or lack thereof), this is one of the better ones I tried out—and it also happens to be one of the first women’s health apps to launch on the app store, which means it has collected a ton of data over the years. As with the other apps, you enter information about your cycle, and it predicts your future periods, ovulation, and when you’ll be most fertile. This app also connects with your Apple Watch, if you have one.