Forget modern science.
Heather Mason of Schenectady knew she was pregnant with a girl well before an ultrasound told her so.
“I was going crazy trying to predict it myself,” said the 28-year-old, now about three months away from her due date. “I was reading books and went online. I found this thing that said if your leg hair isn’t growing, then you’re having a girl. I looked at my legs and realized I hadn’t shaved in four months, and I am usually a weekly shaver.”
Mason’s suspicions were further confirmed when her mother told her she was gaining “a lot of weight” around her middle.
“She told me that meant a girl, too.”
When it comes to determining the sex of the tiny tenant occupying a woman’s womb, an expectant mother could wait until that bundle of joy comes bouncing into the world.
But recent studies suggest between 50 percent and 70 percent of expectant parents take measures to find out whether their child will be a boy or girl. And despite advances in technology making it possible to decipher junior’s gender quite definitively before the grand entrance, many couples still place significant stock in the validity of folklore — ranging from the shape of mom’s tummy and the baby’s fetal heart rate to changes in the mother’s appearance and her degree of morning sickness — when deciding which color to paint the nursery.
“The idea of old wives’ tales evokes the impression of some kind of secret knowledge that is unscientific, superstitious, foolish, et cetera,” said Jo Anne Davis, a member of the New York University College of Nursing’s midwifery faculty. Still, Davis says many have merit.
Mary Siegel is also a believer. The 29-year-old Colonie resident was six weeks pregnant with her first child when she took the “Drano” test.
This experiment involves mixing a urine sample with some Drano crystals and waiting a few moments.
If the urine turns a bluish-yellow, brown, black or blue hue, it means a boy, and if it turns greenish-brown, green or clear blue, or if it remains the same, it indicates a girl is on the way.
“I did this test because I had friends who swore by it,” said the mother of two. “The mixture turned a distinct brown within a minute or two. The next week, I started to decorate the nursery in blue, and I had a baby boy.”
If Drano isn’t something you feel much like messing with, there are a multitude of other beliefs in circulation regarding pregnancy and gender.
High or Low
The way baby sits in your belly is one of the most often cited ways of determining its sex. The general rule is that if you’re carrying low, you’re having a boy and if you are carrying high, then you must be harboring a girl.
This practice can be traced back to old English lore, since according to myth, boys tend to be more independent and stay low in the abdomen, while girls need more protection and are carried higher. But like many myths, this one has become blurred throughout the years. Another variant of this classic tale is that if you carry the weight all out front — like a basketball — it will be a boy; if you carry it equally distributed, the baby will be a girl.
Dee Matlack, a certified nurse midwife at Glens Falls Obstetrics and Gynecology and a mother of three, however, said she doubts there is any truth to this tale. Rather, she said, how a woman carries depends on a number of factors and will likely be different from pregnancy to pregnancy. The position of the baby, the size and shape of the uterus and the strength of the abdominal muscles all factor into whether a pregnancy will be carried, high, low, out front or all over, she said.
Fetal Heart Rate
One belief that has been around for some time is that baby’s fetal heartbeat differs for boys and girls. If you’re having a girl, the fetal heart rate will be above 140; a boy will have a heart rate below 140, so goes the belief.
But this rule of thumb recently came under fire in the scientific community when a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that there is a difference in the heart rates of male and female fetuses only once the process of labor has begun. Scientists discovered that female fetuses had “significantly faster” heart rates than male fetuses after the onset of labor.
So, when using this method of prediction, one must wait until the very tail-end of pregnancy to make the call, and by then, said Matlack, parents will be only moments away from inspecting their little one up close and personal.
Some of the most popular gender-guessing techniques revolve around how the mother-to-be looks.
Does she have acne? A pregnancy mask (marked by brown patches along the cheeks, chin and forehead)? Is her nose widening? Some believe those signs indicate a girl. The logic here is that a baby girl floods mom’s body with twice the amount of female hormones.
Mayri Sagady Leslie, a faculty member in the Nurse Midwifery Program at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies, said women can blame pregnancy hormones or the baby indirectly for skin changes.
“Acne in pregnancy can be caused by increased androgens. As some women may or may not know, we all have a little bit of male hormones on board throughout life. This includes testosterone among others. These androgens are essential for the production of estrogen — a very important female hormone. Because the two main female hormones increase in pregnancy, so do the androgens, and acne with it for some women.”
Melasma — sometimes called chloasma or the mask of pregnancy — is also caused by hormones, primarily estrogen. These hormones are present in equal amounts regardless of the sex of the baby. However, their effect can vary from woman to woman and pregnancy to pregnancy.
“If your nose widens, I wouldn’t blame the pregnancy or the baby,” Leslie said. “Women retain fluid during pregnancy, which can at times create a “puffy” face, which is about the only thing I can think that might affect the way your nose looks to you.”
Pregnancy requires an adequate amount of hormones to maintain it and, Leslie says, that hormone control is initially handled by what is called the corpus luteum, also known as the cyst left behind in the ovary where the egg that was fertilized used to live. The corpus luteum produces high amounts of human chorionic gonadotropin, the substance thought to be responsible for nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy.
“Around 12, 13 weeks, the hormonal control is switched to the placenta and the HcG levels drop dramatically, which is when ‘green’ moms feel better,” she said.
So why would the corpus luteum respond differently to a developing female fetus?
“It may be that there is an unknown chemical marker that somehow triggers it. It is a mystery, but may be eventually explained. Of note is the fact that in twin pregnancies, women are much more nauseated and have even higher levels of HcG. So there is clearly communication between the developing baby and corpus luteum,” she said.
In a recent issue of the medical journal, The Lancet, researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute found that women with severe nausea and vomiting early in their pregnancies were more likely to have girls.
Based on a study of 5,900 women admitted to hospitals in the first three months of pregnancy for morning sickness, they found that 56 percent gave birth to girls and 44 percent to boys.
Trusting your Instincts
To further test the anecdotal stories and pieces of folklore, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health recently asked 104 pregnant women to use whatever approach they wanted — dreams, hunches, tests, etc., — to guess the sex of their babies. Overall, the women predicted the gender correctly 55 percent of the time, which is little better than mere luck.
Mason, however, is convinced the odds are much higher.
“[My fiancé] and I were both 90 percent sure, and we even both had dreams about [having a girl],” she said. “I think there’s something to it all,” she said.