At first glance, period tracking apps seem like a convenient and simple way to track your menstrual cycle. After all, if you’ve upgraded your paper calendar to an app on your phone, it stands to reason that everything you used to put on your paper calendar, including period tracking, might be also become digital.
When it comes to menstruation, however, period tracker apps might not be the best idea. Apps like Flo have faced class actions on allegations that developers shared user information with third-party companies without users’ consent; others have the same security issues.
But nothing has sparked more scrutiny and fear around period-tracking apps than last month’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. As a non-profit organization Electronic Frontier Foundation note, people are more likely to be criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes when a third party like a healthcare worker or family member reports them to law enforcement who “can force them to search for a device “.
Such investigations commonly use “text messages, emails, browser search histories and other information that could directly indicate someone’s intent to have an abortion,” the EFF explains.
Of course, period tracking didn’t start with the advent of the smartphone app. There are many high and low-tech ways to track your menstrual cycle. Here’s what you should watch out for and why it’s so important to do so.
Why is period tracking important?
Lisa Mastersonboard-certified OB/GYN in California tells Reverse“Periods act as vital signs for women and you can get good information about your health, biorhythms and fertility by tracking your period.”
Fadwah Halaby, a Florida-certified nurse midwife agrees. “Knowing more about your own body is always a good thing,” she says Reverse. “I think we sometimes leave that to doctors and we’re not always interested in how our own bodies work… But I think it’s really important for women.”
What’s the best low-tech way to track your menstrual cycle?
When the lady from Planned Parenthood came to my college to explain all about puberty, she told us to write a P on the first day of our period in order to track our cycle. Day one is important, Halaby says, but it’s not the only thing that matters. To understand what is going on, we must first understand the other parts of the menstrual cycle.
The ovulation phase is the most important for people trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy. This is when a mature egg is released from the ovaries. People with female reproductive organs “usually ovulate 11 to 14 days before they bleed,” she says. This isolated information is not necessarily useful if you are trying to conceive. Where trying to avoid conceiving, adds Halaby. “You have to look historically at what your model is.”
Knowing this pattern can steer you through your cycle and give you an idea of when you will ovulate. “If you have a 28-day cycle, it’s going to be 14-18 days. after the first day you had your last period, or 11 to 14 days before the first day you bleed,” Halaby says.
The day before ovulation is when you’re most likely to get pregnant, but anytime during the ovulation phase of the menstrual cycle people who are trying to get pregnant are advised to try.
While an egg can only be fertilized within 12 hours of ovulation, sperm can survive in the female reproductive tract for up to five days. So, sex up to five days before ovulation can lead to pregnancy.
Masterson laments the security issues posed by rule-tracking apps in a post-Roe world. She previously recommended using period-tracking apps “not only to describe menstrual irregularities, but also to compare them to other metrics such as PMS symptoms, athletic performance, libido, blood levels, and more.” energy, etc., and see how changes in your hormones affect different aspects of your life,” she says.
These things can always be tracked with a calendar or a detailed paper log, Halaby says, although it’s true that an app can analyze and synthesize data faster and more efficiently than most humans.
Good things to include in your period diary or diary are the symptoms of PMS (what they are, when they started, how long they lasted) as well as things like diet and when you have had sex.
You may be able to use this information to adjust things like your diet, for example, if you notice that when you eat wheat before your period you feel more bloated, you can change your behavior,” says Halaby.
Is there any period tracking technology that isn’t a period tracking app?
Still, not all menstrual cycle technology has to be high-risk in a post-Roe world.
Charting your basal body temperature (BBT) is one way to tell when you’re ovulating. Your BBT is your body temperature when you are completely at rest. When you ovulate, the spike in the hormone progesterone causes your body temperature to rise. rise very slightly before falling just before your period. If you are pregnant, however, your body temperature remains elevated.
Unlike a regular thermometer, Halaby says, a basal body thermometer is much more sensitive, tracking your body temperature to 1/100th of a degree. For example, it might tell you that your body temperature is 98.67 degrees, whereas most regular thermometers would only tell you that it is 98.6 degrees.
You should take your BBT in the morning before drinking coffee or even getting out of bed, Yalda Afsharan assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in UCLA’s division of maternal-fetal medicine says Reverse. It’s also less about knowing what your temperature is on any given morning and more about using recurring temperature changes to track your cycle pattern over several months.
“You’re most fertile the day before you ovulate,” says Afshar, “so knowing when you’re ovulating is really about understanding a pattern and trying to guess, based on history, what the next cycle will be.” However, warns Afshar, “it’s definitely not a good way to prevent or promote pregnancy overall, because all it does is tell you that ovulation has occurred.”
She adds that “we are not robots; we are human and a number of factors can alter our body temperature, such as medical conditions and medications. That’s why tracking BBT — or your period for that matter — is about “fertility awareness, not birth control.”
Tracking your menstrual cycle is important and instead of period tracker apps, you can always opt for a tried and tested option that women have been using for decades: a paper calendar.