Boy or Girl? How to Tell!
When it comes to guessing your unborn baby's sex, myths abound, but there are a few ways to know for sure.
By Colette Bouchez
Reviewed By Cynthia Haines
From almost the moment a woman discovers she's pregnant, the guessing games begin.
"Will my baby have my nose -- my partner's lips -- my eyes -- his smile?" Somehow we can't help trying to envision how our little one will look.
But perhaps no question stirs more curiosity than wondering whether Baby Snookums will be a boy or a girl.
"Wondering about the gender of a child is something every expectant parent does, with some clearly more curious than others," says Shari Leipzig, MD, an obstetrician and clinical instructor at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
And while it may seem that everyone -- from your mother-in-law, to your next-door-neighbor, to the clerk in the convenience store -- has a way of predicting whether you will have a boy or a girl, experts say most if not all of these predictions spring from myth and not fact.
"Most are based on lore and legend that began when somebody guessed the gender of a baby correctly -- and then passed along how they did it," says Rachel Masch, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU/Bellevue Medical Center in New York City. But Masch tells WebMD that most folks don't realize that any guess, using any method, will be right at least half the time.
"Fifty percent of the time it's going to be a boy, and fifty percent of the time it's going to be a girl -- so there is a good chance that no matter what method you apply, you'll be right at least half the time," says Masch.
That said, don't think that generations of doctors haven't wondered just a little bit about whether or not any of these sex-predicting myths could be true -- because they have. And some have even put the legends to the test.
One popular myth examined by medical pros involves the link between fetal heart rate and the baby's sex. As the legend goes, a heartbeat above 140 beats per minute means a boy; hearts that beat slower, under 140 beats per minute, belong to girls. However, a study of some 200 pregnant women published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine in 1996 found no truth at all to the theory -- and other research has echoed this finding.
"In reality, fetal heart rate changes all the time during a pregnancy, influenced most by the baby's age and how they move -- but not by the gender," says Lisa Bartholomew, MD, an expert in maternal-fetal medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Indeed, Bartholomew tells WebMD that the average fetal heart rate during mid-pregnancy can range from 120 to 160 beats per minute, for both boys and girls.
Interestingly, however, a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1999 revealed that the baby's sex does influence heart rate during the labor process, with the hearts of little girls waiting to be born beating faster than those of little boys.
Another "myth" slipped under the medical microscope: The Draino test. In this instance, the long-standing legend dictates that mixing a pregnant woman's urine with the at-home plumbing product Draino will result in color changes that correspond to sex prediction. As early as 1982, an informal medical school study, reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association, showed this method was no more reliable than flipping a coin. More recently, a study reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1999 found similar results.
"What's really important to note here is that a pregnant women should not be playing around with Draino -- it's dangerous and it could cause some potentially serious skin injuries," says Masch.
The same Canadian group also tested the Chinese calendar method of sex prediction. According to Far Eastern legend, mom's date of birth combined with baby's month of conception could, when calculated correctly, spell out boy or girl. According to the Canadian researchers, it did so correctly about 50% of the time -- which is as good as anybody's guess!
Around this same time, a group of Swedish physicians examined the theory that women who suffer with the serious, long-lasting form of morning sickness known as hyperemesis gravidarium were more likely to give birth to girls. Their conclusion, published in the journal Lancet in 1999, was that this appears to be true. While the margin of difference between sexes was small, it was, they say, statistically significant. The suspected link is the pregnancy hormone hCG, which is generally higher in women who have severe morning sickness and may be secreted in greater amounts by female fetuses.
More Gender Myths Revealed
In addition to those myths that have been medically studied, our experts offer a "reality check" on five more common sex-guessing legends.
Predicting Your Baby's Sex: What Really Works
Though myths abound, there are, in fact, a few medical tests that can reveal the sex of your baby. Although doctors say it's unethical to use them solely for sex determination, if you are having the tests for other reasons, they can also clue you in on the sex of your baby.
These tests are:
Colette Bouchez is the author of the book Your Perfectly Pampered Pregnancy -- Beauty, Health, and Lifestyle Advice for the Modern Mother-To-Be.
Originally published Jan. 19, 2004.
Medically updated February 2005.
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