Boy or Girl? Gender-Guessing Myths and Facts

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We really can't help ourselves; the sight of a pregnant woman automatically makes us fast-forward to one question: boy or girl?

Beware, pregnant moms. From the moment you tell your friends or begin showing signs of a wee baby bump, the congratulations you receive will be uttered in the same sentence as, "Are you having a boy or girl?" Occasionally, even the due date takes a backseat to the baby's sex.

Perhaps this is our desire to envision a complete little person before the birth, a need to begin attributing characteristics, consider names, and find the perfect blue booties or pink layette. Sometimes curiosity about a baby's gender leads to some gender-guessing games that may have moms-to-be wondering: Is there any truth to those old wives' tales?

We asked the experts to weigh in on a few popular myths and provide the facts.

MYTH: Baby girls' heart rates are faster than boys' heart rates.

"Heartbeats for both sexes can range from 110 to 160 beats per minute in the third trimester," says Dr. Kelly Leggett, the medical director at the Women's Hospital of Greensboro. In fact, anywhere within that range is considered a normal heartbeat for both boys and girls.

"This is the most common method my patients inquire about in the office," says Dr. Aviva Stein, an OB-GYN at Charlotte Obstetrics & Gynecology. "Unfortunately, it has been demonstrated over the last few decades that there is no link between fetal heart rate and baby's gender. In fact, the fetal heart-rate baseline tends to change throughout the nine months."

MYTH: Carrying your baby high indicates a boy, while carrying low means you're having a girl.

Every woman's body is unique, and the same goes for her abdominal musculature and pelvic inlet (how the baby is sitting in the pelvis). According to Leggett, "Your body shape and your musculature determine how the baby is carried."

Multiple pregnancies can change musculature, and the more babies a woman has, the more she might protrude, versus carrying high.

"Whether you are carrying your baby low or high is based on the position of the baby," says Dr. Melvin Seid, an OB-GYN with Lyndhurst Gynecologic Associates of Winston-Salem. Positions can change throughout the pregnancy.

"The way that you carry your baby has more to do with your parity status (the number of times you've given birth) and the muscle and tone of your uterus," Stein says.

So, although it's a fun guessing game, low babies and high babies give clues to mom's body shape, not the sex of the baby.

MYTH: Suspending a gold wedding ring (or needle) from a necklace or string over a pregnant mom's belly will predict the baby's sex by the way the ring swings; circular motions for a girl, back and forth for a boy.

"This is really like picking a lottery number," Leggett says. "It's all cute and fun and a nice game to play at your baby shower, but there is absolutely no scientific data to support that claim."

So mothers, don't worry about testing your electromagnetic field while pregnant!

MYTH: If your body hair or nails grow faster during your pregnancy, you're having a baby boy. If hair and nails grow slower, you're carrying a girl.

While pregnant women carry an abundance of beta-HCG (pregnancy hormone), hair and nail growth are not clear indicators of a baby's gender. "Your age will affect your hair texture more than your pregnancy," Leggett says. Hormone levels between boy and girl babies are not sufficient to make any noticeable changes to the mother's body.

"Normally, a woman loses about 100 hairs a day as part of hair growth's natural cycle," Stein says. "During pregnancy, regardless of baby gender, the hormone estrogen prolongs the pregnant woman's hair-growth phase, resulting in less shedding of hair. After delivery, don't be alarmed if your hair may fall out as you return to the normal growth/resting phases. You should return to your pre-pregnancy hairline within one year of giving birth."

MYTH: You are more likely to experience severe morning sickness if you are carrying a girl.

Severe morning sickness does not, as some claim, indicate you're carrying a baby girl, Leggett says. "The hormone we attribute nausea to is the beta-HCG, and it does not determine the sex; for example, if you have twins, you have more beta-HCG and could have elevated nausea, but nausea does not tell us what the gender is, regardless of the levels of beta-HCG."

MYTH: Moms crave sour and salty foods with a baby boy and sweet foods with a baby girl.

False yet again, Leggett says with a laugh. "I wish the science was that easy, but it isn't, so eat whatever sounds good!" Stein agrees. "Your cravings have more to do with a combination of nutritional and psychological needs."

MYTH: Testing a pregnant woman's urine with 2 tablespoons of Crystal Drano will tell you the sex. If the mixture darkens to a brownish color, it's a boy. If it doesn't darken or there is no color change, it's a girl.

We are not advising this test in any way. "There is no scientific evidence to suggest that this method works," Stein says. "In addition, there may be dangerous side effects from the fumes that are produced when mixing urine and Drano. I strongly discourage you to try this method. If one still wishes to use this method, by all means, do not handle the mixture yourself."


"I hate to burst one's bubble," says Dr. Ann Stein, an OB-GYN, "but the most common way to detect the sex of your baby is with an ultrasound, which, generally speaking, is over 90 percent accurate if done after 16 weeks gestation. A very reliable way to tell the sex of your baby is through genetic testing in the form of a CVS (chorionic villus sampling) between 10-13 weeks gestation or amniocentesis done after 15 weeks. The sole purpose of these tests is to diagnose a potential problem with your baby like an anatomical variation, not for gender determination."

Seid mentioned a test called the Sensage Fetal XY test, which can be conducted as early as 11 weeks into the pregnancy. The test involves drawing a sample of the mother's blood and sending it to a lab where fetal cells are isolated.

"They look at the fetal DNA and determine the sex of the baby with 95 to 99 percent accuracy," Seid says, adding that the downside is that the test is expensive ($250-$350). But for mothers who need to know, and when ultrasound results turn out inconclusive, the Sensage Fetal XY test may be a vital option.

"Chromosomal testing is the only definitive way of determining the baby's sex," says Deb O'Connell, a midwife based in Carrboro, who adds that moms should also pay close attention to their intuition, which is usually right. "In my experience, if a mom has a good instinct about what she's having, she is usually right. She intuitively knows. Nine out of 10 times, the mom is right."


Rebekah Cowell is a Chapel Hill-based freelance writer and mother.

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