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Pregnancy / Technology

Want to get pregnant? There’s an app for that

Will Sacks couldn’t believe what his wife was claiming: She knew of a form of birth control that was more than 99 percent effective, totally natural, free and with no negative side effects.

Sure. Then why, at age 29, had he never heard of it? Why didn’t everyone use it?

His cynical questions quickly turned rhetorical — and last spring, they turned into a business. Sacks and his wife Kati Bicknell, of Boulder, Colo., launched a free app called Kindara, designed to help spread the word about the Fertility Awareness Method.

The premise is simple: Know your body’s predictable rhythms, and you can prevent unwanted pregnancies — and also help increase your odds of getting pregnant when you’re ready.

“I can’t believe I lived 29 years before I knew this,” Sacks says. “It’s kind of like ‘Being A Human 101.’ We should all know how to create and not create other humans, and understand how that process works. It’s pretty basic stuff. Your body needs food and water, and if you want to create another human, do this, and if you don’t do this; it’s that basic.”

About 75 percent of Kindara’s 100,000-plus users are trying to get pregnant; a quarter use it to avoid pregnancy.

Kindara claims to be the most sophisticated fertility charting app on the market and boasts the largest fertility database in the world, according to spokesperson Mark Shenfield. It’s currently ranked 18th in the Health and Medical category of the Apple store. With hundreds of reviews, it maintains a 4.5-star rating.

Kindara’s method, also known as the “symptothermal method,” is backed by science and stats. One study published in Human Reproduction found that, when used correctly, the method resulted in only 0.4 pregnancies per 100 women. That’s comparable to the effectiveness of the birth control pill, the study found. The difficulty is that the method is a lot more complex than simply popping a pill every day. In addition, trends may be harder to track for women with irregular cycles.

It’s not the “Rhythm Method,” which doesn’t hold up in reliability tests. Unlike “Natural Family Planning,” it’s not based on religion, and it encourages using another form of contraception (such as condoms with a spermicide) during a woman’s fertile days.

It’s the getting-to-know-your-body part that is not so simple, at least to start, Sacks admits.

To get an accurate picture of her cycle, a woman needs to track body temperature with a basal themometer and the quality of cervical fluids every day. Kindara recommends tracking both temperature and fluid on a calendar to get a more accurate picture. Temps drop before ovulation and rise after. The cervix grows wetter as ovulation approaches and drier after.

It can take a month — or a few months — before women can recognize their patterns and feel confident enough to trust those patterns, founders say.

“It’s a little confusing, to be honest, when you get started,” Sacks says.

However, the test itself takes less than a minute per day — and Sacks hopes the Kindara app will make it easier to remember and understand how to interpret the numbers. The app automatically plots the data on a monthly calendar that is color-coded to indicate fertility. During that window, use a back-up method or abstain if you don’t want to get pregnant, Sacks says.

Bicknell says she decided to try the Fertility Awareness Method after exhausting every other form of contraception.

“There was nothing out there that worked, fit my lifestyle and made my body feel not terrible,” she says.

She says she learned about the method from a friend, and studied it for a year before she decided to give it a try. Beyond contraception, she says it was important to her to understand her body.

“If you know your own patterns, you can pick up on things that are suspicious or find something that might be wrong, because you are tuned in,” Bicknell says.

Kindara offers a variety of resources: blogs, links, videos, forums. You can send your charts and specific questions to staff fertility counselors (via phone or in person), who will review them offer professional insight. That’s how the free app is profitable; a consultation costs $20. Kindara also sells basal themometers for $13, or you can get one at a regular drugstore.

As an effort to offer increased support, Kindara is offering 20 local women who want to get pregnant three free months of fertility counseling, with the use of the app; and 20 more local women free counseling who want to transition into using the app to help with birth control. Counselors will work closely with these 40 women to educate them and help them reach their goals safely and effectively. Apply online at www.kindara/ttc (trying to conceive) and www.kindara/tta (trying to avoid).

Kindara’s Pearl Street office has a growing “baby board,” with the names of the babies who have been born thanks to the app.

This is the future of medicine, as Sacks sees it: “People taking more responsibility for their own health, understanding their data and using the doctor as a coach, as opposed to someone who diagnoses you.”

“It moves medicine out of the doctor’s office,” he says. “It’s making less sense to go to the doctor, spend 10 minutes with him and have him try to tell you what’s wrong, when it’s possible to track data continuously, figure out what’s going on and go to the doctor to confirm the diagnosis.”

Which brings us back to why Fertility Awareness isn’t widely taught or practiced in the United States. First, there’s no money in it, and we live in a profit-driven health care system, says the Fertility Awareness Center. Secondly, it can take six to 12 hours to teach, and many doctors don’t have that kind of time. Lastly, the center says it believes we live in a “repressed culture that does not encourage us to know much about our bodies or to share that knowledge with others.”

In addition, many couples may not want to use a backup method or abstinence for an average of 13 days per cycle, in order to reduce pregnancy to below 1 percent per year, the number of days Planned Parenthood says are necessary using the method. And Fertility Awareness doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections.

Of course, relying on technology can have its own pitfalls, too, as everyone whose smartphone has ever slipped into the sink can vouch. So, users may create a Kindara account, and back up their data in the cloud.

Ultimately, it is up to the woman to make her sexual choices based on her own body and the information she collects, Sacks says.

That’s Kindara’s mission: “Your body tells about your fertility every month. We’ll teach you how to listen in and learn what your body is telling you.”

By Aimee Heckel, For The Boulder Daily Camera

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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