3 tips for choosing a pregnancy app

There are hundreds of pregnancy apps available, but remember these three tips before downloading them.
An app can't replace the personal recommendations you get from your physician.

Updated June 14, 2016

There’s an app for everything these days, and pregnancy is no exception. In fact, a 2013 report by Citrix, a software company that tracks app usage, showed that pregnancy-related apps were more popular than fitness apps.

There are hundreds of pregnancy-related apps that promise to help with everything from tracking fertility, to showing you how the baby is developing, to letting you hear the baby’s heartbeat, to keeping track of the length and intervals of your contractions.

Many of these apps can be fun and entertaining, but here are three tips you should keep in mind before you download the latest app.

1. What do you want from the pregnancy app?

This is important to consider because no app can replace the personal recommendations you can get from your physician.

If you’re looking for an app that describes baby benchmarks during pregnancy, you likely aren’t at risk for getting bad advice – although you should be aware that your baby’s development may not follow that path perfectly. Are you looking for baby name ideas? Again, there aren’t likely to be negative effects from the ideas you get – unless your partner hates the names you like!

However, if you are looking for an app to help you prevent pregnancy and it fails, the consequences could be life-changing.

If you need personal pregnancy health advice, talk to your physician.

2. Consider medical apps’ accuracy

If specific information is crucial to your health, you want to make sure you’re getting accurate advice. Unfortunately, medical apps have a spotty track record with accuracy.

Research from 2013 that looked at apps designed to tell if a skin lesion was cancerous showed that three of the four apps incorrectly classified 30 percent or more of melanomas as "unconcerning.” Those results are just not acceptable when it comes to your health and your life.

Meanwhile, a 2015 study looked at “symptom checkers” – sites or apps that allow people to type in their symptoms and get a diagnosis and recommendation for what they should do next. The accuracy of these apps and programs varied between 5 percent to 50 percent. If you didn’t mind getting a list of 20 diagnostic possibilities, accuracy could increase to 58 percent, which is still not good.

If you need medical advice about something that could have significant consequences, do not trust an app. Visit your physician.

When it comes to apps geared toward pregnancy, the results aren’t much better. A June 2016 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology found that apps meant to predict a woman’s fertility window were generally inaccurate. If you’re relying on one of these apps to try to conceive, be aware that it may not be effective.

Other apps promise to calculate the date of conception and your due date. While there’s a formula that can be used to calculate a due date, you have to remember it’s just an estimate. The only pregnancy in which we know the date of conception 100 percent is when pregnancy is achieved through in vitro fertilization (IVF). For all other pregnancies, determining how far along you are (and therefore your due date) is a little hazier.

3. Check the privacy policy on the pregnancy app

When you download an app, do you read the disclaimer it asks you to acknowledge? Most people don’t.

Websites and apps can gather more information about you than you think. A March 2015 study said most people probably think details about their health would not be of interest or of value to others. However, there is a robust market for health information. When you visit a website, even those of a reputable source, your information may be shared with third-party sites such as Facebook and Pinterest without your knowledge or permission.

Many privacy policies you agree to when you install an app state upfront that they may disclose the personal information they gather about you to third-party sites. Before you agree to these policies, think carefully about how comfortable you are disclosing your personal information.

Not all pregnancy apps are worrisome

As long as you are not using a pregnancy app for medical advice and have examined the privacy policy, it’s OK to have a little fun.

Look around. You might find a baby name app in which you can discover similar names by shaking the device. Or an app just for your partner, perhaps to walk them through what to expect in the delivery room.

It’s an exciting time in your life, and some of these apps may make it even more fun.

Did you use a pregnancy app that you really enjoyed? Share your tips on Facebook or Twitter.

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