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Finding Out the Sex of Your Baby

Finding out the sex of your baby prenatally is a choice that is very personal. This FAQ will discuss some of the ways to find out the sex of your baby, it will identify the risks of each test, the reliability, and discuss some of the reasons to decide either way. This will be followed by some of the responses that I received from misc.kids.pregnancy newsgroup.

Robin Elise Weiss, ICCE, CD(DONA), NACA, BCCE

  • How to Find out the Sex Before Birth
  • Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
  • Personal Stories and Decisions

    How to Find out the Sex Before Birth

    Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS)
    This diagnostic test is usually performed between 8 and 11 weeks gestation, sometimes as late as 13 weeks. This is generally a test for people who have a high risk of genetic abnormalities. Test results are available within 7 to 14 days. Miscarriage rate from CVS is about 4%, recent studies indicate that if the CVS is done before 10 weeks gestation there is an added risk (.5% to 1.7%) of limb deformity, and about 3% CVS is associated with serious decline in amniotic fluid protection. There is a greater incidence of false positives because of the differences between the cellular genetic material of the choirionic villi and the fetus. There is a small chance that the sex they determine is wrong as well.


    This diagnostic test is performed as early as 9 weeks and for diagnostic purposes, 18 weeks gestation. There is a risk of 1-1.5% miscarriage and 1% chance of other pregnancy complications (infection, premature labor, injury to the fetus, cord, or placenta, rupture of membranes, etc.). The tests take about 2-4 weeks to run. There is a small chance that the sex they tell you is incorrect.


    While ultrasound can be performed at any stage of pregnancy for the purpose of finding out the sex it is best done between 18 and 26 weeks. Most care providers will not give an ultrasound for the specific purpose of finding out the sex, and the American College of OB/GYNs has issued a statement against routine ultrasound exposure during pregnancy. However, most physicians do not heed this warning. Adequate studies on ultrasound safety have not been done, but we do know that ultrasound exposure can change the way the cell reproduces and moves. There have also been studies indicating that ultrasound heats up the cells. This method is the most frequent for finding out the sex of a baby, however, it is the least accurate. Accuracy depends on several factors: baby's cooperation, gestational age, technician's ability, etc.

    Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

    There are many decisions to be made and everyone has their "reasons" for whichever way they choose. I will try and list a few:

    Reasons to find out the baby's sex:

    • Pick only one name
    • Buy sex specific clothes
    • Decorate the nursery
    • Bonding with a specific baby
    • Why not?

    Reasons to wait:
    • Like the surprise
    • Help make the last few weeks of pregnancy bearable, not knowing
    • Could have fantasies about either sex
    • To annoy relatives
    • Did not have the need for the technology

    Some couples I have taught have shared some "games" they played:

    • Find out the sex, but have the technician write it on a piece of paper and seal it. Take it to the birth with you.
    • Find out the sex of the baby but don't tell anyone else.
    • Make your own up and share it with us

    Personal Stories and Decisions

    I work in a hospital, so I had a few ultrasounds to find out what it was and was told it was a girl. Well we were excited either way as long as it was heathy. We decorated the room fairly neatral with pink curtains and pink carpet and the baby showers were planned to get girl things. Well the day before I delivered three people I ran into said "oh you are having a boy, congratulations. I can tell by the way you are carrying." After thirteen and a half hours of induced labor my beautiful baby boy arrived and blessed us. My next pregnancy I really think we will not try to find out. No matter what it is we will live it unconditionally. Also we do have clothes for either gender for the first couple of months. -Tara G. EAFB, FL

    "I had an amnio done, so I had the option of finding out my baby's sex. I wanted to find out because I would have preferred a girl, and if it was a boy, I wanted time to prepare myself. Also, if my doctor was going to know, I'd surely want to know.

    Turns out, he's a boy, and due in two months. Knowing he's a boy has been great at enabling me to think about him, dream about him, and become close to him. It's also made it easier to name him and buy clothes for him (I'm no sexist, but I'm not going to put him in frilly dresses).

    There haven't been any cons for me on this one. Both my husband and I are glad we know. We tell people if they ask; we're not keeping it a secret." -Mel

    "My husband and I decided that we wanted to know the sex of our baby. We both REALLY wanted a boy and as fate would have it, we were pleasantly surprised! We chose to find out the sex because of limited funds, etc. We found that knowing the sex enabled us to decorate the nursery and ask for gifts which were gender specific. We both agree that this did save us money in the long run. However, should we have another baby we've already decided to not know the sex (I made this decision so that during labor I'll have something to give me that "extra motivation", I hope!)." -HH

    "We chose to find out the sex of our first child basically because we were curious and excited about the prospect of knowing RIGHT THEN. I guess it was a lack of will power thing. I don't know about my husband (whether he wished he had waited to be surprised) but I can say I am VERY GLAD I found out before the birth.

    I didn't realize just how much I had hoped to have a boy first until I found out we were having a girl. All my life I had wanted an older brother for my daughters so he could protect them and they could date his decent friends (although I haven't the faintest idea where that ideal came from. I had an older brother who teased and beat me up and very few of his friends were decent.). Knowing my first child would be a girl ahead of time allowed me to emotionally prepare for the disappointment. Not that I was devestated or anything, but I didn't want to feel ANY disappointment at the birth of my child. Not even a halted breath.

    When I was given the opportunity to find out the gender of my second child I jumped at the chance. I felt like I would like a little sister for my daughter and wanted to prepare myself in case it didn't happen. My son has been loved ever since. We even named him and spoke to our daughter about him before he was born to prepare him.--I know that was presumptuous since we only knew through an ultrasound but the name was a neutral gender name and we were willing to keep it (the name) either way.

    I'm not sure what I'll do for my next pregnancy since I no longer have any preconceived notions about siblings. I guess I'll decide in the moment--which probably means I'll choose to find out then.-- It has been a wonderful experience for me to know before the birth and it allowed me to prepare for that child in particular (emotionally, we did not decorate or buy baby clothes or anything).

    An interesting side note-- I knew what gender both of my babies were through intuition long before I found out scientifically. I just needed that extra boost to help me to accept the facts.

    I don't love my children any less even though I might not have originally chosen their order. In hind sight I would have chosen them just as they came." -C. Gibbons

    "With both of my pregnancies, my husband wanted to know and I did not. I doubt that my hubby could keep a secret for so long without slipping. With my first, I ended up giving in "under pressure" on the exam table so we did find out last time. This time I have held firm, and esp. since he had his way last time and I could say definitively that I had not liked knowing, he really couldn't argue.

    It seems like most people do want to know, it looks like, so here are some of the arguments against from someone who didn't want to know.

    For me it was that I wanted to find out my baby's sex exactly once, with 100% accuracy, and ultrasound would not offer me that. I wouldn't have minded finding out early by amnio since that would have been definitive. Also I had/have a preference regarding the sex, and I really think if you do have a preference it is better to wait, at least for me. I wanted/want a girl, and when we found out Ryan was "probably" a boy, I spent the rest of my pregnancy hoping to be in the 15% where the US is wrong, hoping for a big surprise at the birth. It was not until my son was born with a penis that I really accepted that I had a son, and fell in love with him and with the idea of having a son. So I really did not want to go through that again if it looks like a boy, nor the scenario of it looking like a girl but not wanting to get my hopes up too much in case it really wasn't. (Hubby has interpreted this as "you don't want to know because you're afraid it's another boy," sigh...)

    I also felt that knowing, or sort-of knowing, took some of the fun out of all the guessing games you can play regarding predicting the sex during your pregnancy.

    My take on the arguments about being able to pick out names, buy gender-specific diapers and clothes, etc...: Since the US is wrong in about 15% of the cases at the time most women have a "routine" ultrasound (around 18 weeks), you should probably think about names for the other gender anyhow, unless you are comfortable with the idea of deciding after birth in that case. The newborn size diapers are unisex anyhow, and there are at least 2 brands of unisex diapers in larger sizes. It's really not a big deal for him or a friend or relative to run out and buy you 3 or 4 packs of step 1 diapers shortly after the birth if you need them. wrt gender-specific clothing -- if you are planning on having a second, try to avoid it anyhow ;-) In my experience you'll get plenty of gender-specific stuff after the baby's born so you might as well stock up on gender-neutral onesies and stretchies before hand and wait on everything else. Again, the US is WRONG about 1 time in 6, so you don't want to go overboard on the gender-specific preparations in any case. (Many people have argud that my numbers are not correct, or that *their* practitioner was 100% certain of what they saw, or that they saw it too and it was unmistakable. My OB for my first pregnancy is the one who gave me the 85% number -- in his experience the US predictions were right 85% of time -- even though the technicians claimed to be closer to 99% accurate. We couldn't see anything on the freeze-frame crotch shot of our first son, so I'm sure that biases my judgement against trusting these predictions too much.)

    According to my first OB, they are equally likely to be wrong about either prediction, despite what you usually hear about boy predictions being more solid than girl predictions. (Again, based on his experience.) btw, This is a top-notch ultrasound facility in a city well-known for excellent health care facilities." -Robyn

    "Both times we chose to find out the baby's sex prenatally at 20 week ultrasound. Because the technology was available and we could. Why not? It didn't affect the pregnancy. It helped us by focusing the name selection and purchasing process - less stress.

    One change we made with the second pregnancy - we did not tell anyone else that we knew which sex the baby was. People like to guess." -John

    "I was dying to know the sex of my baby! I have never been able to wait for any surprise, if I know about it. And boy do you know about a baby. How could I wait 9 months!?! I'm not worried about clothing or decorating, but it does feel nice to be able to call the baby "she" instead of "it" or "the baby."

    We tried to find out the sex of our baby at the 19 week US and were told there is a 75% chance its a girl. Now since we both admitted we want a girl first, we're thrilled. But I still imagine a boy 25% of the time! I think I will have an US closer to devliery where I should be able to see the sex better." -Amy

    "An interesting point made in the book "The Tentative Pregnancy" (an excellent book when you're thinking about various tests, by the way--sorry I can't find a reference for it) is that, among women surveyed, more were disappointed about finding out that they were going to have a boy than the opposite--strikingly more. This effect was actually strongest among those with 'traditional' beliefs in which they valued men over women--just the opposite of what you'd expect. The author speculated that it's the shock of finding out that there's something so *different* growing inside of you--a feeling anyone might have, but which will be much stronger in those who believe that the sexes are very different. The book recommends against finding out the sex of a baby, but I knew that this advice was not right for me. The time immediately after the birth of a baby is wonderful and everything one has been hoping for, but at the same time it can also be catastrophically difficult, for a short time--and the sudden change in hormones causes at least a little depression in most women. For me, the best time to get used to a different idea is when I *don't* have a lot of other things to deal with.... " -Paula B.

    "I had amnio, both because I'm an old broad (39) and, more importantly, I didn't want any surprises. I know too many little boys that were brought home in pink dresses, and other fetuses who wouldn't cooperate and exhibit their genitalia during ultrasound. I don't think I would have done the amnio just for prenatal genetic screening alone--psychologically I *needed* to know my baby's sex, and karyotyping is the one fool-proof method of finding out.

    This is a premium baby, conceived after 3 years of infertility treatment, countless IUIs, 1 surgery, 3 IVFs, and 2 miscarriages. I knew this would be my only child, and I have always wanted a daughter. While obviously, after all those heroics, I would have been delighted with *any* child, I feared that if I were "surprised" with a boy at birth, my disappointment at not having a girl might mar my joy at having a healthy son. Thus, I wanted those months to visualize and get used to the idea of having a boy.

    As it turned out, we are having a girl (I should have figured out that marginal-quality sperm + old eggs = daughter!). My joy at having a healthy baby AND A DAUGHTER is absolutely boundless. Knowing her sex has made her more of an individual to us, and has increased our bond with her.

    When I announce that we're expecting a daughter, many people (mostly from the older generation) say sadly, "but didn't you want to be surprised?" The answer is a resounding NO--I can't understand why anyone would NOT want to know their baby's sex prenatally." -esi

    "1. My experience. I found out with amnio both times. As others, focussed us on only one name (whew!.. name picking was almost harder than labor, certainly it lasted longer!) Other than that, what difference did it make? none to me.

    2. Friends experience. Found out via ultrasound (supposedly *not* foolproof, but she worked at a us company (who shall remain nameless, but you can guess ;-) ) and the tech who did it had *never* been wrong before. So she was told it was a girl. She was thrilled, having already had a boy. SO she decorated, pink, bought pink had heart set on girl's name, etc etc etc. Of course you see the punch line. Its a boy!. She had MAJOR post partum depression. Thought she couldn't bond with this baby, cried for weeks while stripping pink wallpaper .IMHO pink is ok , especially at that time, but it was a *thing* for her... And really it took almost 6 or 9 months to work it out. SO my advice to anyone who wonders if they should find out is to only find out for *certain*. ie ultrasound is not always right. Because unmet expectations are too hard to deal with while you are hormonnaly (sp) challenged." -Eileen

    "We have just had our first and most likely only baby -- I am 36, my mate 39.

    We were quite adamant about not wanting to know the gender till the baby arrived. I refused amnio, so we didn't have to be thinking "gee, somebody in some lab somewhere knows our baby's sex, but WE don't." (Though that's not the reason I refused amnio, just a side benefit.) No CVS either. We had one ultrasound, at 18 1/2 weeks, just to look for any obvious defects that we'd want to be prepared for, and told the techs, IF YOU SEE ANYTHING, DON'T TELL US. (Same instructions when we wound up with two more u/s's during a health crisis at the end of pregnancy.)

    It was quite fun for us to spend the time referring to the baby as "she/he" or "her/him," and to get gender-neutral shower gifts in lovely shades of green, purple, red, yellow, white, etc. We honestly did not care whether we wound up with a boy or a girl. The baby's sleeping in our room, so nursery decor was not an issue (we painted the hand-me-down cradle violet -- though the baby's sleeping in our bed anyway!!!! as it turned out), nor were other such factors.

    When birth time came, I wound up in a pre-eclampsia crisis with induced labor, very different from the natural Bradley childbirth we'd hoped for and dreamed of ... but the one facet of my birth plan which DID survive was, my mate was the one who announced the baby's gender. After the baby slid out, it was so sweet to hear Patrick say, "It's a BOY!!!!" I really wouldn't have wanted to have been deprived of the surprise." -t.r.

    "I really didn't want to know either time. We didn't find out the first time, and it really helped me get through my pregnancy, the guessing and wondering, the excitement of it all. The second time I had an amnio and they told me with asking if I wanted to know. I kept telling myself they were wrong, even though it was the sex that I "wanted." I had a really hard time bonding to that thought, and I would even tell people that we weren't sure of the sex." -Elise

    Just reading the pros and cons of finding out the sex early. Had to put in my two cents worth....
    With our first, I instinctually knew from the begining that it was a girl. At the birth, when the nurse said "it's a girl" I remember thinking I know that! With our second, my pregnancy was so different I was sure it was a boy. I had an ultrasound in my ninth month and the clear shot between the legs had the tech declaring "that is definately a scrotom". The blue blanket and blue clothes and boy's name went to the hospital, and my second daughter came out. Now, six years later, I am due with our third in about three weeks. No-one asks when I am due, they all ask what I am having! I have decided that after the dissapointment of a wrong ultrasound I don't want to go through that again, but have also decided the following:
    • It doesn't matter! It's not like you can return it, I just want it healthy!
    • After nine long months, have something to look forward to!
    • It's alot cheaper to wait, than to redo the nursery!


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