I’m definitely guilty of relying too heavily on technology to run my life–I use Handy to keep my apartment clean, order groceries through an app, wear activewear that counts calories, and organize my schedule on my smartphone. And, like millions of other women, I’m also a big fan of fertility-tracking apps.
There are dozens of period trackers available on the iTunes and Google Play store right now that promise to help you understand your body better if you’re trying to get pregnant—or do not want to get pregnant, depending on what your goal is right now. They’ll tell which days you’re most and least fertile, and some even offer time-sensitive suggestions for dealing with PMS. However, you (and I!) might want to pause before handing over something as important as your fertility to a free application, because a new study from Georgetown University Medical Center has found that women who rely on smartphone apps to monitor their fertility levels are at a higher risk of unwanted pregnancy. Yikes.
Specifically, researchers explained that while fertility apps are increasingly popular among natural-health obsessives, many don’t actually use “evidence-based methodology” to keep you informed. “Smartphone apps are increasing in popularity because more and more women are interested in using natural or fertility-awareness-based methods of family planning because they want to feel empowered with greater knowledge of their bodies,” added lead author Dr. Marguerite Duane.
The researchers evaluated 40 apps with a rating system based on criteria used by Family Practice Management. Each app was scored on a five-point scale for 10 areas that were individually weighted based on how important they are for avoiding unwanted pregnancy. Just six apps either received a perfect score on accuracy or didn’t incorrectly classify fertile days as infertile.
If, despite this study, you do want to continue using your smartphone tracker, the researchers suggest getting some expert advice about learning to read your body first—from a doctor, not the internet. “When learning how to track your fertility signs, we recommend that women first receive instruction from a trained educator and then look for an app that scored four or more on mean accuracy and authority in our review,” suggests Dr. Duane. You can read the full study online to find out more.