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How to track your menstrual cycle and fertility with the Apple Watch

There's a period-tracking app built into your wrist and iPhone.

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Whether you're doing it to know when your next period will arrive or to increase your chances of getting pregnant, tracking your menstrual cycle is a useful practice to keep tabs on your reproductive health. There are many apps that can do this, but why not use one that's already part of your Apple Watch or iPhone? In the Apple Health app, you can log your period and ovulation using Cycle Tracking, which is also available as a stand-alone app on the Apple Watch.

Tracking your period helps you be prepared for its arrival, so you're not caught off guard and scrambling to find a tampon. But, more importantly, it can keep tabs on your health. Being able to record how heavy your flow is, how painful your cramps are and the presence of any other symptoms -- like mood swings, breast tenderness and acne -- can help you and your doctor determine if you have polycystic ovarian syndrome or endometriosis.

Tracking your cycle is also useful if you are trying to get pregnant, or not get pregnant, because you can see when you're ovulating.

How to use Cycle Tracking

Within the Apple Health App on your iPhone, tap the Browse tab, and then tap Cycle Tracking. To get started, you'll need to provide the date of the first day of your last period, the average length of your period and the average length of your full cycle. You can also decide if you want Cycle Tracking to give you fertility predictions and log fertility data (like sexual activity and ovulation test results).

Once you're set up, you'll see the current date at the top of the app. You can tap on any date to indicate that you had your period that day. Beneath the calendar, you can record symptoms and record how heavy your flow is. 

As you log information about your cycle, the app will predict when your next period will begin and send you notifications on your iPhone and/or Apple Watch. You can also set up notifications to let you know when you're ovulating and to remind you to log your symptoms during your period.

Screenshots by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Read more: Online birth control and fertility tests: What to know before you buy

If you are tracking your fertility, you can record stats like basal body temperature or the results from an ovulation test. The app uses that information to create a fertility window, or the few days each month when you're most likely to get pregnant. 

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Apple

An update in December added Cycle Factors. This allows you to log specific factors -- like pregnancy, lactation and contraceptive use -- that can affect your cycle so that Apple Health can fine tune its advice and predictions. If you're using an IUD as a contraceptive, for example, Cycle Tracking will pause its fertile window predictions because they won't be as reliable. Or, if you're pregnant, the app won't prompt you to log your period each month until after your pregnancy ends.

Like most period-tracking apps -- such as Clue and Eve -- the more information you provide, the more accurate the predictions get. As you use Cycle Tracking month after month, you'll get stats about your cycle, such as the average length and flow of your period.

There are a lot of different dashboards within Cycle Tracking, which can feel like information overload. However, I do appreciate that there are many different symptoms you can record, from acne and cramps to sleep changes and headaches. I'd like to be able to add my own symptoms, but for now, that's just not possible.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.