An Honest Review of Fitbit for Menstrual Cycle Tracking

You may know that the Fitbit app has some built in menstrual cycle tracking features, but many people do not know that it has other features that may be useful for menstrual cycle tracking. In this article, I will review the pros and cons of the Fitbit app as it relates to cycle tracking for people who ovulate. For context, I use a Fitbit Charge III.

The most basic feature that Fitbit offers for cycle tracking is recording bleeding dates of menstruation and then displaying a predicted fertile window based on average cycle length.

The pink bar represents the length of menstruation. The blue bar represents a predicted fertile window. The flower symbol represents predicted ovulation.

The user needs to remember to input menstuation each cycle. Once it is inputted, Fitbit will generate the blue fertile window. This fertile window should NOT be used for avoiding pregnancy, as it is only based on cycle length and not real-time fertility signs like cervical mucus or basal body temperature.

Once menstruation is entered, it will also begin a countdown until your next predicted menstrual cycle.

Countdown until menstruation in the app.

Unfortunately, I do not find this basic feature very useful for anyone who has any cycle variation. Even though my cycle length has increased over the last year, Fitbit has not automatically updated my cycle lengths. The app does not appear to be very adaptive without user input.

In addition to tracking bleeding the app offers options for:

  • Mood
  • Plan B (morning after)
  • Ovulation tests (better called luteinizing hormone tests)
  • Cervical mucus (Taking Charge of Your Fertility categories)
  • Cyclical symptoms like acne

It is rather disappointing that the app does not include options to mark pregnancy when it occurs, especially since we know that this changes daily calories burned and heart rate, to name just two effected areas of the app.

A really cool feature that I do like is the ability to show cycle trends like flow intensity and cramps. The same screen that displays this will also let you scroll through all past cycle lengths.

In the settings of this screen, you can also decide to toggle off predictions. For people avoiding pregnancy, I do recommend either ignoring or toggling off predictions in the Fitbit app. The app allows you to choose your current birth control method as well.

Outside of the designed menstrual cycle tracking features, I want to highlight resting heart rate as a potential exciting thing to track for those who are not taking hormonal contraception. Why do you need to not be taking hormonal contraception to utilize the heart rate feature for menstrual cycle tracking? Hormonal contraception suppresses ovulation, and ovulation changes our heart rate charts!

To learn more about resting heart rate and the menstrual cycle, read my previous post here.

You can see my heart rate falling during menstruation around April 10th, and then rise during my fertile window and luteal phase.
Menstruation began when my heart rate dipped below 70 on this chart. Ovulation likely occured around the third raised heart rate in this close-up.

Heart rate in people who are ovulating is at its lowest point during menstruation, rises during the fertile window, and continues to be elevated in the luteal phase.

When heart rate begins to drop again, this is an excellent way to predict menstruation will soon occur. For example, I have been tracking my heart rate in Fitbit for 2 years, and I always bleed when my heart rate dips back down to 70 beats per minute after my luteal phase!

I do think this feature is worth tracking for anyone interested in a more precise period prediction than cycle length. If you have Fitbit premium, you can also find a setting for sleeping heart rate under restoration. This may be more steady than resting heart rate for some individuals.

Lastly, I want to address Fitbit temperature for menstrual cycle tracking. Unfortunately, wrist temperatures are not a compatible parameter for fertility awareness when it comes to avoiding or achieving pregnancy. It can be incredibly erratic. When we track temperature, we want the temperature as closest to the core as possible.

Fitbit does not give precise temperatures, instead it gives deviations from a range. I likely ovulated near 18, 19, or 20 on the photo above. While Fitbit did detect a slight shift, it is not particularly clear, and it dropped back down.

As depicted above, my luteal phase the previous month was extremely undefined, and I could not determine a confirmed temperature shift with it.

For now, I do not recommend Fitbit for precise temperature tracking. Instead, I recommend a basal body thermometer.

Conclusion

Fitbit offers some really unique options for cycle tracking, but it should not replace your birth control or fertility awareness method. The heart rate feature may be useful for identifying cycle phases, but the temperature readings are not suitable for tracking cycle phases.

A Dive Into Resting Heart Rate and the Menstrual Cycle

I purchased a Fitbit device close to two years ago, and within months I noticed that my heart rate appeared to be correlating with the phases of my cycle. Now eighteen cycles into comparing my heart rate to other fertility signs, I can say with confidence that it has lined up every cycle. This shouldn’t be too surprising because we already know that progesterone causes basal body temperature to rise, but heart rate does not exactly follow that pattern.

We have known about the possible connection between heart rate and the menstrual cycle for over a century, but in the last 50 years a few studies have taken a closer look.

Palmero (1991) studied 64 women for 3 consecutive months and created a PMS group versus a non-PMS group. They found that “in the premenstrual phase, PMS group showed significantly higher resting HR levels than NPMS group.”

Moran (2000) followed 26 women and found that “resting-heart rate was significantly higher in both ovulatory (P < 0.01) and luteal (P < 0.01) phases than in the menstrual and follicular phases.”

Shilaih (2017) followed 91 women and found that they “observed a significant increase in pulse rate (PR) during the fertile window compared to the menstrual phase (2.1 beat-per-minute, p < 0.01). Moreover, PR during the mid-luteal phase was also significantly elevated compared to the fertile window (1.8 beat-per-minute, p < 0.01), and the menstrual phase (3.8 beat-per-minute, p < 0.01).”

I want to highlight these last two studies in particular, because many of the other studies have an issue. Marco Altino explains why:

“The great majority of studies looking at HRV and the menstrual cycle collected one single data point during the follicular phase and one single data point during the luteal phase. I don’t have to tell you how little sense that makes, considering the high day to day variability in these parameters.”

This is an excerpt from his blog on heart rate variability in the menstrual cycle. Read the full blog here.

The 2017 study published in Nature by Shilaih, et al found that heart rate may rise up to 5 days before ovulation occurs. This means that heart rate could potentially be a used as a way to time intercourse for conception.

My results are so steady with resting heart rate that I dream of someone using it in a long-term study with other fertility signs. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could avoid pregnancy using heart rate too?

Below is an example of my results with resting heart rate. To convert my heart rate to fit in a fertility awareness app, I use a conversion. Essentially, one heart rate beat = .1 Farenheit change on my temperature scale. A heartbeat of 69 becomes 96.9, 70 becomes 97.0, 71 becomes 97.1 This preserves the original ratio, and it allows me to show the data with other fertility signs. For your own conversion, you may model this. If you have a lower heart beat rate, you can still convert, but you may need to do an additional equation.

My resting heart rate rose during the most fertile days of the cycle. Ovulation most likely occured on Cycle Day 15 or Cycle Day 16 on this chart. In addition, while I have not found evidence of this in the literature, I have observed that I tend to get a one day rise 3 to 4 days before the fertile window opens with cervical mucus. On this chart, that was Cycle Day 6.
A second example. Ovulation most likely occured on Cycle Day 14, 15 or 16. Heart rate rose on Cycle Day 14.

In conclusion, I believe that resting heart rate is a very unique sign to track, especially if you already use a wearable fitness tracker. I will note that a false heart rate rise can be caused by illness, alcohol or food close to bedtime, nightmares, and more! This is not dissimilar to what can obscure a temperature. I hope that in the future more studies are done so that we can see if heart rate can also be used for avoiding pregnancy purposes.

Selected Heart Rate Study Citations

Moran, V. H., Leathard, H. L., & Coley, J. (2000). Cardiovascular functioning during the menstrual cycle. Clinical physiology (Oxford, England)20(6), 496–504. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2281.2000.00285.x

Palmero, F., Choliz, M. Resting heart rate (HR) in women with and without premenstrual symptoms (PMS). J Behav Med 14, 125–139 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00846175

Shilaih, M., Clerck, V., Falco, L. et al. Pulse Rate Measurement During Sleep Using Wearable Sensors, and its Correlation with the Menstrual Cycle Phases, A Prospective Observational Study. Sci Rep 7, 1294 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-01433-9