Femtech delivers female-focused health technology that could transform women’s lives. Discover how it could support menstrual health, fertility, menopause, and more.
Ladies—wish you could buy eco-friendly, washable undies that hold the equivalent of four regular tampons or secretly pump breastmilk with a device that fits inside your bra?
Actually, you can. Thanks to femtech, these products are a reality.
Femtech refers to using technological innovation to develop apps, products, and services specifically to support women’s health and wellness.
If you haven’t yet explored femtech, you might be surprised by the many ways it could help make life a little easier.
Menstrual tracking apps make it simple for women to log their periods. Some apps also track period pain and heaviness of flow.
“The long-term health impact of heavy menstrual periods, particularly the risk of anemia, often goes unrecognized,” says Scott Chudnoff, MD, MSc, chair of the department of obstetrics-gynecology at Stamford Health in Connecticut. “Menstrual tracking apps can provide some insight into what’s actually happening in women’s cycles.”
Notably, menstrual pain affects at least half of reproductive-age women. Femtech innovators are taking a new look at this. For example, you can now buy wearable devices that use small electrical pulses to block menstrual pain signals.
Gynecological exams can provoke anxiety and physical discomfort. One femtech company is working on a speculum covered with silicone and redesigned for a better experience during vaginal exams.
At-home tests for sexually transmitted infections—such as HPV (human papillomavirus), the top cause of cervical cancer—have become more common and give users more privacy. In many cases, you collect biological samples yourself.
So, are these at-home tests valid? “In studies done for the detection of HPV, self-collected samples show similar sensitivity to clinician-collected samples,” confirms Megan Fitzpatrick, MD, assistant professor of pathology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Fertility tracking apps are another area of interest in reproductive health. Women may use the apps as either digital birth control or to help them get pregnant. But do your research first.
“One study found that the majority of the apps they reviewed were incorrectly using the science and data to predict fertility,” says Chudnoff. Apps that base fertility predictions primarily on your cycle length aren’t very accurate.
On the other hand, menstrual tracking apps that also require users to collect data daily on their cervical fluid and first morning body temperature are much more likely to accurately predict fertile times.
Pregnancy and post-pregnancy
Chudnoff anticipates we’re going to see more femtech emerge for remote monitoring during pregnancy. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped drive this.
Attention is also turning to improving childbirth.
“Women commonly experience tears between their vagina and anus when they give birth, which can contribute to future pelvic floor issues, such as incontinence,” says Brittany Barreto, PhD, executive director and podcast host at FemTech Focus, a nonprofit group empowering the femtech industry.
One company is testing a device to pre-stretch the vaginal tissues and pelvic floor muscles before a woman gives birth to help avoid damage.
In addition, employers are working to make life easier for breastfeeding women.
“Fortune 500 companies are providing women with a breast milk delivery service that ships the milk (appropriately chilled) overnight when a woman is travelling for work,” says Barreto.
Gentler birthing, please
Tears between the vagina and anus (perineal tears) occur in about 80 percent of women during vaginal childbirth. First-time moms are especially at risk.
Menopause and midlife
Breast health becomes top of mind as women age. Barreto says one femtech company has developed a saliva-based test for breast cancer detection, which is currently under clinical testing.
Another company has developed a hand-held, radiation-free device for early breast cancer detection by health care professionals.
Femtech companies are also looking at how to ease the challenges of menopause. An cooling bracelet to detect and fend off hot flashes is in development.
Chronic fatigue is also more prevalent in midlife women. One company has developed a wearable audiovisual device to balance the left and right sides of your brain and promote deep relaxation and sleep. Clinical studies are in progress.
Supporting older women
Some challenges that affect aging women, including urinary incontinence, are often overlooked and undertreated.
“Historically, women have accepted urinary incontinence as a normal part of aging,” says Chudnoff. “Now, I think there’s a lot more recognition that this is a problem that needs to be solved.”
Approximately 10 percent of all adult women have urinary incontinence. The prevalence jumps to 40 percent in women ages 70 and older.
At-home electrical stimulation devices that help retrain pelvic floor muscles to reduce urinary urgency and leaks are now available.
Heart disease is also overlooked in some women. Heart disease increases in aging women as they lose the protective effects of estrogen at menopause, says Fitzpatrick. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.
One company is working on embedding electrocardiogram technology into a bra. Ultimately, this could lead to better, more personalized cardiovascular care.
Fired up for femtech?
If you find a femtech company or product that interests you, sign up for updates on products currently in development.
Some companies offer opportunities to participate in clinical trials that test the products. You may also be able to help by completing surveys to guide product development.
For femtech products already available, check with your health care practitioner and consider trying them. Some offer generous return policies, so you can make sure the products are right for you.
Be open minded, but well-informed
Even if you’re in the target market for femtech, it’s easy to become stuck in the status quo.
“Many women don’t realize they need femtech or that their life could potentially be better,” says Brittany Barreto, executive director and podcast host at FemTechFocus. Once you try some products, you may wonder how you lived without them.
That said, it’s important to be an educated consumer.
Privacy: How is personal data that you share electronically handled? Is the company selling your data to advertisers or other third parties?
Efficacy: “Make sure femtech products are adequately tested and evaluated,” says Dr. Scott Chudnoff, MD, MSc, at Stamford Health. “Your health care provider can help you determine this. User testimonials aren’t nearly as reliable as controlled clinical trials.”
Customer service: How responsive is the company when you send an inquiry? What is the company’s return policy and warranty?