Pregnancy, fertility and more: the best personal health gadgets for women

The cutting edge of feminine health tech, with wearables and apps from menstrual trackers to next-gen breast pumps

TODO alt text

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's a lack of tech aimed specifically at women, but that is slowly, slowly changing. Women can face a range of societal, health and wellbeing issues from period pains to bladder problems to public breast feeding and now there are gadgets and apps to help.

From high-tech breast pumps to menstrual trackers and pelvic floor exercisers, we’ve rounded up some of the best examples of tech that's trying to make life easier. The slightly, er, variable quality of what's on offer suggests there's a way to go yet, but these are at least trying to help…

Fitbit’s female health tracking

1. Fitbit female health tracking

Handy functionality in a watch and app

Reasons to buy
+Wearable and app track a woman’s cycle+Shows wearer's fertile window +Also does all the usual fitness tracker stuff
Reasons to avoid
-Best used with a Fitbit wearable (although not essential)

Fitbit’s Versa watch is clearly aimed at women, although it is ostensibly a unisex device. Little wonder then, that it's where the brand's female health tracking feature debuted. It's also now in its more blokey Ionic watch and the brand new Charge 3 fitness band.

The women's health tracking enables you to better understand how your cycle impacts other aspects of your health and wellness by combining it with sleep and activity data that’s available to view in one place. 

In-app period tracking lets you log you period, record symptoms and opt into receiving push notification two days before and on the day of your next predicted period start date so you're not caught by surprise. 

You can also see your estimated fertile window in the Fitbit Today personalised health dashboard, which could have obvious uses. There’s also info about the menstrual cycle, ovulation, fertility and more available to read discreetly (or indiscreetly, if you prefer) plus community groups to ask questions and swap tips – Fitbit's greatest strength is community building, arguably.

Elvie pelvic floor trainer

2. Elvie pelvic floor trainer

The 'Fitbit for your pelvic floor', basically

Reasons to buy
+Discreet and relatively comfortable+Genuinely useful
Reasons to avoid
-Clearly, a touch intrusive

Pelvic floor problems, including incontinence, affect one in three women, and up to 70% of new mothers. Kegel exercises are often recommended by health professionals to strengthen and tone the pelvic floor – and have the added benefit that they might improve sex too – but it’s difficult exercising muscles you can’t see. 

That's where the Elvie Trainer comes in. It's a non-scary silicone device that goes ‘inside’ and pairs with an app to give realtime biofeedback – a sort of fitness tracker for your pelvic floor, in short.  

The app visualises pelvic floor movements and guides you through exercises as well as tracking your progress. So, as you squeeze your pelvic floor muscles, a gem in the app lifts in response to the strength of the contraction. There are six exercises to give the pelvic floor a complete workout and progress from a trainer to advanced user, and all of them take just five minutes.

The invasive nature of Elvie probably limits its appeal, but at least some effort has been put into making it look not completely weird, which is more than can be said for some of the products further down this list.

Squeezy NHS Pelvic Floor app

3. Squeezy NHS Pelvic Floor app

This £2.99 app helps women with Kegel exercises

Reasons to buy
+Provides visual and audio guides for exercises+Created by chartered pelvic health physiotherapists
Reasons to avoid
-There’s no physical device measuring the exercise efficiency

For women who don't want to fork out for Evie's pelvic floor Fitbit, there's an app called Squeezy, which has been designed by chartered pelvic health physiotherapists in the NHS and costs less than three quid. 

You don't need any specialist kit, just follow the customisable exercise plans, which guide you through doing your exercises. There are visual and audio guides available to help you contract your muscles for a chosen number of seconds, which can be tricky without a prompt.

The app is suitable for all women who want to do pelvic floor muscle exercises or Kegel exercises and also includes a bladder diary, which is handy for anyone who needs to keep track of symptoms, particularly if they are seeing a physiotherapist. 

Apple Watch support is also available for extra discreet exercises on the go. The only drawback is that without a physical device to measure squeezes, you can’t be sure you are doing the exercises correctly.

Ava bracelet

4. Ava bracelet

Wearable to monitor the menstrual cycle, fertility and/or pregnancy

Reasons to buy
+Measures 9 parameters to provide real-time data+Pairs with an app to reveal a woman’s fertile window
Reasons to avoid
-Bracelet has to be worn continually, at night-It's not the most elegant design, is it?

The Ava bracelet lets women track their menstrual cycle, fertility or pregnancy, providing insights such as symptom tracking and health data like heart rate. 

The company behind the wearable claims its device is clinically proven to detect the very beginning of the fertile window in real time, to help couples conceive faster. 

It doesn't end there, though. When and if the wearer does become pregnant, the bracelet links to an app to tell her what to expect during each week of pregnancy as well as tracking her sleep, physiological stress and resting pulse rate.

Ava’s sensors collect data on nine different physiological parameters, including movement, heat loss and breathing rate, while an algorithm uses the data collected to detect changes that occur at the beginning of the fertile window as well as after ovulation.

None of this explains why Ava resembles a bum attached to a cheap, plastic strap, but there it is.

Willow wearable breast pump

5. Willow wearable breast pump

Hands-free pump keeps all parts inside a bra

Reasons to buy
+All milk-expressing tubes and pouches in one bra+Enables women to pump discreetly and move around freely
Reasons to avoid
-Again, it's not exactly beautiful-To some it will actually look more weird than normal breast feeding

This probably should not be an issue in 2018, but for some women, breastfeeding and expressing milk at work or in public can be daunting. For them, there are now there hands-free pumps that are more discreet than traditional models, such as the Willow

This pump fits completely in the wearer’s bra – tubes and milk pouches and all, so the wearer can move around and complete everyday tasks. That is not where the cleverness ends, however.

With Willow, you insert the two pumps and attach them to your nipples, like a regular double pump. Using clever technology, it can then sense your let-down and automatically transition into expression phase, 'based on your body's unique milk production and timing'. 

The pump pairs with an iOS and Android (beta) app to display milk volume, pumping time and past pumping sessions, letting you keep an eye on your milk production and avoid any embarrassing spillages by ensuring a milk pouch does not overflow. 

The California-based brand behind Willow says the pump’s parts are dishwasher safe and easy to clean, while the pump is quiet and discreet. 

It is a tad pricey at $479, although this is offset to an extent by the provision of personalised coaching via text, call or video chat. Hopefully this will ensure your pumping goes smoothly. 

INNOVO shorts

6. INNOVO shorts

Clever shorts treat incontinence with regular wear

Reasons to buy
+Use NMES tech for non-invasive treatment+Relatively affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Why is all this stuff so ugly looking?

Urinary leaks affect 1 in 3 women in the UK and half of menopausal women. They may not be a sexy solution, but INNOVO shorts promise great results, enabling 93% of women to feel significantly drier in 4 weeks and 86% of users to experience almost no bladder leaks after 12 weeks, in trials. 

The shorts contain conductive panels, which stimulate the muscles across the pelvic floor, generating a strengthening and training effect with regular use.

To see results, users have to wear the shorts for five 30-minute sessions each week for at least three months. There is a hand-held console to start one of two programmes, with one tailored for strengthening the pelvic floor and treating stress urinary incontinence, and the second being for urge incontinence. 

The shorts are designed to be worn at home, and work using patented Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) technology, which stimulates and contracts the pelvic floor, helping users to regain control and prevent leaks when laughing, sneezing, coughing, running, jumping or lifting. In essence, they're like those belts for developing your abs, but for the downstairs area.

As such the shorts look, shall we say, something less than sexy. They're also quite pricey, although there is also an option to pay for them in six instalments.