Over the past few years we’ve witnessed a growing interest in women’s health tech. There have been apps that can (allegedly) replace contraception, wearables designed for pregnant mums, connected breast pumps and even smart pelvic floor trainers.
As the quantified self movement becomes truly mainstream, tech gets smaller, algorithms get smarter and women become more empowered to find out more about their minds, bodies and cycles than ever before, we only expect this interest to rise.
Read this: Which Fitbit should you buy in 2018?
That’s why when Fitbit announced it’d be launching new female health tracking alongside its new Versa watch earlier the year, we weren’t surprised - but we were excited to try it out for ourselves.
The Fitbit focus on female health
Fitbit’s new female health tracking allows people to track their periods and menstrual cycle, which then provides predictions for when they’re likely to be ovulating and having their next period.
Of course, this is nothing new. There are plenty of period tracking apps on the market at the moment (we like Natural Cycles, Glow and Clue, just to name a few) and we’re not giving Fitbit any prizes for finally introducing female health tracking.
But what’s interesting is how these new features could feed into the wider Fitbit ecosystem. Now users will have all of the important data about their minds, bodies and cycles in one place - and not in lots of separate apps.
And it doesn’t take a fertility expert to realise why that might be important - and not to mention cool.
You could notice more joined-up thinking between your sleep and your cycle, switch onto mental health problems that flare up at certain times of the month or see how your calorie intake skyrockets when you’re on your period. And let’s not forget it makes chats with the GP a whole lot easier. It goes without saying, there’s a lot that makes sense about having female health tracking under the same roof as everything else.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, the female health tracking that Fitbit launched back in May has been insightful, but fairly basic.
I put it to the test to see how female health tracking with Fitbit works, what’s it like to live with this new information right there on my wrist and how it compares to similar apps that already have a lot of users.
How does it work?
If you use Fitbit’s app (with any of its wearables) and identify as female, you should have already had the opportunity to opt in or opt out of the new female health tracking feature.
And it’s worth mentioning that even if you don’t identify as female, you can still get the feature. Just go to the Fitbit dashboard in your phone app, tap Edit and add the ‘female health tracking’ tile.
Once you’ve opted in, you need to answer a number of questions about you and your cycle (see the screenshots above). You can go back and amend these settings afterwards, so don’t worry if you don’t know anything from the start.
The answers to these questions will provide the Fitbit app with enough information to build up a basic picture of you and your cycle, which it’ll then use to populate a calendar with predictions about your typical period length, your next period, your next fertile window and when you’re next ovulating.
There’s a handy key, which explains what each of the colours and symbols mean and these are really easy to figure out after using the app for just a few minutes. The idea is that, over time, these predictions will become more and more accurate as the app’s algorithm gets to know you, your body and your cycle. I certainly found that to be the case after just two months of use.
But aside from periods, you can also add in different kinds of data, which lets you keep an eye on your body and your period, like flow intensity, cervical fluids, other conditions (like breast tenderness, headaches and acne), as well as sex.
This might be a lot to think about if you’re just used to tracking your periods and not filling in other information with your regular, go-to app, but getting into the habit of keeping tabs of more than just when you’re bleeding can be really invaluable for keeping track of health conditions and explaining problems to professionals.
Once you’re up and running, you’ll be able to see important details from the Fitbit homepage. It’s really easy to edit this yourself and move the female health information higher or lower, depending on how important it is to you - and if you want to be constantly reminded your period is on its way.
As well as information about whereabouts in your cycle you are, and where the app predicts it’ll be next week, the female health tracking feature also pushes general information about female health to you, like ovulation, fertility and common misconceptions about periods.
There’s also an update to the Community tab, which has added a selection of groups for women to discuss topics, from childbirth to birth control to menopause.
Getting to grips with trends
After you’ve used the female health tracking for a few months, you can get access to the Trends tab. This gives you information about your cycle, like your average period length, average estimated ovulation day, and average cycle length.
That’s then all shown in a little bar at the bottom so you can see how each cycle compares.
Although this is interesting, it likely won’t be news to anyone who’s tracked their periods before. But it’s interesting if you haven’t, if you’ve tracked it but not regularly and for a whole host of health reasons.
If you’ve ever been to the GP about anything remotely related to periods, sex or your hormones, the chances are you’ll be asked one of the questions above. So the Trends information gives you an easy way to have that answer within seconds rather than trying to visualise a calendar in your head.
If you have a Versa or Ionic, but not other trackers, you can also view the female health stats directly from your device. If you have an older device, you can see it as a tile on the Fitbit app homepage.
I used a Versa to test out the female health tracking smarts. Using this device, the stats about your cycle are on the screen underneath stats about your activity levels and heart rate.
The information that’s served up first will depend on where you are in your cycle. So if you’re nearly at your fertile window, it’ll tell you how long till you’re there. If you’re in your fertile window it’ll tell you how long you have next, then how long till your next period, then how long your period will last. You can then swipe through to more info, which is basically all of that information, but ordered differently depending on what’s likely to matter to you the most that day.
So if you’re on day 6 of your cycle, the first stat will be ‘3 days till your fertile window’, the next will be ‘22 days until your next period’ and the third will be ‘day 6 of your cycle.’ So it’s simple, but really handy.
Sure you can look in the app to see this information, but I noticed that I was feeling a bit down one day, quickly looked at my wrist to see my period was due in two days and just thought “ah that’s why”. So although it only saves a matter of seconds, it’s nice to have that data so readily available alongside everyday stats, like how many steps I’d taken and my average heart rate.
And that was my general feeling about the female health tracking features as a whole. Although I’ve always used period tracking apps, they sit separately to my activity and general health tracking apps, like Fitbit or Garmin. With the female health tracking, I have all of the important data about me all in one place.
Not only is that convenient for a lazy millennial with no attention space, but it makes me feel like my cycle is less like something that needs to be locked away in its own app separate from everything else, and just an important part of me. I imagine that’ll be particularly useful (and not to mention empowering) for younger women who are just starting their periods too and don’t want a disconnect between their stats.
How does it compare?
It’d be interesting to compare Fitbit’s new female health tracking feature to every other period tracker out there. But I’ve compared it to Natural Cycles because I’ve been using that app for a year - so it should know me pretty well by now.
Natural Cycles has a number of big differences. It’s not just a period tracker, but also a certified form of contraception. (I’m a fan of the app, but I’d approach using it as your only form of contraception with caution).
It can claim to offer a reliable form of contraception because it requires a number of extra data points to predict when you’re likely to be fertile and infertile, primarily your basal body temperature (BBT), which is used to figure out when you’re likely to be ovulating.
Of course the Fitbit app can’t do any of that, it’s just a tracker and a guide. But it’s still interesting to see that both estimated the same future period dates - and both proved to be accurate (check out the screenshot above). Both also estimated similar ovulation dates too.
In that way, it’s good to see the Fitbit female health tracking making these predictions in line with the service I’ve been using over a year now. It’ll be interesting whether they both stay so accurate in the future.
Who is it useful for?
The female health tracking that Fitbit offers still feels in its infancy, especially in comparison to the more advanced apps and wearables being released at the moment.
So with that in mind, it works as a great period tracker so you know when your next one is coming. This is handy for keeping tabs on PMS, understanding why certain things might affect your cycle and taking more control over why you feel different at different stages throughout your cycle - whether that’s to make changes yourself or use the notes within the app to chat to your GP.
Those who have irregular periods, need a contraceptive solution, want to get pregnant or are pregnant are unlikely to have enough data here to really inform them or give them anything new.
Of course that’s fine at this stage, Fitbit hasn’t claimed to do any of those things. But if it aspires to be a holistic health solution for all different kinds of women, it needs to broaden its scope.
Fitbit didn’t want to comment about the future of their female health tracking tech this time round, but I’m hoping to see more metrics added in the future. It’d be great to be able to add temperature, more information about moods and mental health and for there to be options for pregnant women. And that’s just the beginning.
But it’s a good start. The features are easy-to-use, simple and yet informative enough for a lot of people. I have regular periods, use another form of contraception and don’t plan on getting pregnant anytime soon, so the information it served up to me was all I needed on my wrist - at least for the time being.
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