For many women, finding a family planning method that works perfectly without side-effects is almost impossible. Hormonal birth control methods come with all sorts of side-effects, such as weight that refuses to go away no matter how hard one exercises, irregular periods, low libido and depression, among others. Most of these women have resigned to fate and learned to live with these side-effects.
But the techno savvy ones have discovered a way to space their children without having to pop family planning pills. Mobile phone apps that track menstrual cycles are the family planning method of choice for these women. The apps come in many varieties and can be downloaded for free.
Caroline Nalyak, a mother of three, uses an app called Cycle Beads. The app tracks her monthly periods and notifies her on whether or not she is likely to get pregnant on each day.
“I check the app every time I want to have sex,” Nalyak says. “It has worked for me, but it requires discipline. You have to keep your records properly so the app can master your cycle.”
Nalyak has been using the app for the last four years and she says the only challenge she encounters is when her husband wants to have sex on a day marked unsafe. In such situations, she is forced to use an emergency pill, she says.
HOW IT WORKS
The Cycle Beads app helps a woman use the standard days method, a fertility awareness-based family planning method.
The method was developed by the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University, USA, and is designed to be an easy and effective way for women to plan or prevent pregnancy naturally. Efficacy trials found this method to be more that 95 per cent effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly.
To use the app, a woman must have cycles between 26 and 32 days long. About 80 per cent of menstrual cycles are in this range.
For those who are not sure about the duration of their cycles, the app allows them to track them for a few months before they can start using it as a birth control method.
Women who have recently been pregnant need to wait until their cycles have returned to normal before using this method. Those who have been on the pill, IUD or injectables are advised to wait for at least two menstruation cycles before they can start using the Cycle Beads app.
The standard days method, the system on which the app is built, identifies a fixed fertile window for women with cycles that are between 26 and 32 days long. For women with cycles in this range, the method identifies days 8 to 19 as potentially fertile days. The fertile period begins several days before ovulation and ends a few hours after ovulation. During this time, a woman can become pregnant.
A user simply tracks the start date of her period and the days of her cycle to know if she is on a day when pregnancy is possible or not.
The fertile window takes into account the cycle length, the timing of ovulation, the variation of the timing of ovulation from one cycle to the next as well as the lifespan of the sperm and ovum.
To prevent pregnancy during this period, users are advised to avoid unprotected sex by using a condom or abstaining.
The app helps women to track their cycles, prevent pregnancy by avoiding sex when pregnancy is possible and to plan pregnancy by having sex only when pregnancy is possible. The app also allows users to take notes and keep key information such as on whether or not you had sex on a particular day.
Those who are unable to avoid unprotected sex during the fertile period are advised to consider using another family planning method.
For women like Carol, who sometimes have to use emergency contraception, the app advises that they should discontinue the app and use other birth control methods until their next period.
Other mobile phone apps use different methods to determine probability of pregnancy. The Natural Cycle app uses daily body temperature to establish a woman’s fertile window. The app predicts when a woman will ovulate and marks days as red or green. Green days are safe while red ones are unsafe.
Some women are, however, still hesitant to trust smartphone apps as contraceptives.
“I can never offer myself as a lab rat where pregnancy is concerned,” says Juliet Karimi, a mother of two.
“I have a one-year-old daughter, thanks to Cycle Beads. Though unplanned, she is the light of our home,” says Irene Ogonya on social media.
Other women say they sometimes feel anxious when they are using the app as the only method of birth control.
“It doesn’t work well with me,” says Avril Dichol.” I was so stressed up last month thinking I was pregnant because I indulged on the ninth day.”
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