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The 'Fitbit for fertility' celebrates a milestone: A baby

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The 'Fitbit for fertility' celebrates a milestone: A baby,

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Jennifer Jolly has the story of the first “Ava Baby.” Jace McGee is the first baby born with the help of the high-tech wearable band called “Ava.” Launched in August 2016, Jace McGee’s birth is a significant milestone in a budding industry of fertility tech. Wochit-All

After years of trying to conceive, 32-year old Lizzie McGee gave birth to Jace last month. What made the baby boy special, beyond the amazing qualities of any new child: he was the first “Ava baby,” McGee’s reference to the Ava fertility tracker that’s one of several new, lower-cost tech solutions for fertility.

“It was amazing. He’s a healthy, sweet-tempered, beautiful baby boy,” McGee told me over the phone from her home in St. George, Utah. “He’s a little miracle. There was such a long time that we didn’t even know if we would be able to have a baby.” 

McGee is one of more than 7.4 million women in the United States who have struggled with getting pregnant and sought help with fertility issues — help that’s often arduous, expensive, and emotionally draining. She’d been through it before, and spent nearly two years and thousands of dollars conceiving her first child, which doctors told her could be her last. But she refused to give up.

 Last year, McGee and 31-year old husband Sam started using the $199 Ava that shares similarities with popular exercise tracker Fitbit, but focuses on fertility. Three months later, Jace was conceived.

“I would put on the bracelet at night, then sync it in the morning and find out exactly where I was in terms of ovulating. We had been trying for almost a year. After I started using Ava, it took three months to conceive.”  

Worn only at night, the slim, lightweight silicon wristband tracks clues to a woman’s most fertile days. It measures resting pulse rate, skin temperature, breathing, and other metrics — a total of nine physical indicators that could tip the scale toward a much better chance at a pregnancy. 

“Ava detects a woman’s entire fertile window, as opposed to ovulation predictor kits that only detect the last day or two best for conceiving, or the temperature method, which only confirms ovulation after the fact,” says Ava Sciences CEO & co-founder Lea von Bidder.

More: 7 things you should never say to a woman experiencing infertility

More: Myths about IVF, surrogacy and adoption

More: Adoption proves no less exhausting for couple who tried it all

A clinical study published in Scientific Reports and conducted by the University Hospital of Zurich that used Ava and other wearable fertility trackers backs up the science behind the company’s claims, demonstrating that resting pulse rate is a good predictor of the fertility window. 

“I love having the first ‘Ava Baby,’ I think it’s just so exciting,” McGee’s says, in a voice akin to someone who’s just getting used to the fact they’ve won the lottery. “I emailed Ava before I even told my husband, I was so shocked and so grateful.” 

Von Bidder says Ava Sciences know of at least 500 ‘Ava’ pregnancies since its consumer launch in August 2016.

“But it’s just the beginning, because Ava users [around the world] are reporting an average of 5-10 new pregnancies a day,” she said in an email interview. 

While Baby Jace might feel like a miracle to his family, he also represents a significant milestone, adding legitimacy to this budding new health tech industry as well.

Ava Sciences has already raised more than $12 million in funding, while the period app Clue has raised $30 million, according to Business Insider. Worldwide, the market for connected health devices like Ava is expected to top $400 billion by 2022, compared to just under $60 billion in 2014, according to Grand View Research

Being able to solve a common problem is one of the most important indicators of whether a new product will survive. Ava’s accuracy and promising science make it an early leader, but it’s hardly the only company vying for women’s attention. Ovulation app Ovia and Clue are two of Ava’s top competitors, while cycle-tracking app Kindara syncs with the company’s own Wink smart thermometer to streamline temperature readings in a similar way to Ava. 

Other devices built by startups like Daysy and Yono use temperature readings to estimate when women are most fertile, and even Clearblue, which is well known for its pregnancy tests, markets a digital fertility monitor, though that one still requires test sticks and a trip to the bathroom. Thus far, Ava seems to be the only one that has nailed the balance between powerful data and ease of use, but that could change at any moment. 

With tens of millions of dollars already on the line, and the possibility of an entirely new industry built around fertility tech, baby Jace isn’t just a bundle of joy for his delighted parents, he’s the first result of a new technology “baby boom” as well.

Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY’s digital video show TECH NOW. E-mail her at jj@techish.com. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferJolly.

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