Boy or Girl — Can You Choose Your Baby’s Gender?

5 myths about a baby's sex debunked
Expecting girl or boy

Several suggested practices – from diet changes to the timing of intercourse – promise to ensure couples will have a baby of a certain gender. But none of them has proven to be successful. In an unassisted pregnancy, the odds of having a baby of either gender remain fairly even at 50 percent.

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Let’s take a look at what drives the theories.

Myths about a baby’s gender

Several myths are based on the Shettles Method, developed by Landrum Shettles in the 1960s. He built his theories on the fact that the sperm carrying the Y chromosome, which conceives a baby boy (XY), is lighter and faster but less durable than the sperm carrying the X chromosome that result in a girl (XX).

Myth 1: Intercourse closer to ovulation allows the lighter, faster Y-chromosome sperms to reach the egg first. Intercourse further from ovulation enables the stronger, more durable X-chromosome sperm to outlast the Y-chromosome sperms.

“The latter approach will also decrease your fertility rate in general,” says gynecologist Elisa Ross, MD. “If you try two days before ovulation, perhaps all of the sperm will die.”

Myth 2: Shettles suggests that having deeper intercourse helps the faster Y-chromosome sperms get to the egg first.

“It all sounds logical to think that you could control it,” Dr. Ross says. “But when they actually do the math in studies, it doesn’t turn out to be fact.”

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Myth 3: To increase likelihood for a boy, women should increase potassium in their diet.

A recent study indicated that there was an association between potassium and having a male baby, but minimal proof that it was a reliable method. In fact, there was only a 5 percent change in the number of women in the study who ended up having a boy, according to Dr. Ross.

Myth 4: Women who use an expectorant (like cough syrup) can increase the fluidity of their cervical mucus to lubricate the way for Y-chromosome sperm.

To which Dr. Ross replies: “That’s another old wives’ tale.”

Myth 5: Changing the pH factor in the vagina can help. If you make the vagina more acidic by using a vinegar douche, it favors a girl. If you make it more alkaline by using a baking soda and water douche, it favors a boy.

“These solutions could end up killing all of the sperm,” Dr. Ross says. “It can be very harmful to the woman, too, especially the baking soda, so we do not recommend these techniques.”

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The only fool-proof way to guarantee a boy or girl

Currently, the only way to guarantee gender is a technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), where a single sperm is implanted in the egg in a type of in-vitro fertilization called ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). A cell of the developing embryo is tested to determine sex prior to placement in the uterus of the mother.

This is not routinely done in the U.S., unless there is an inheritable disease in the family which occurs in a specific gender,” urologist Edmund Sabanegh, MD, says.

Because the male sperms tend to be a little lighter, they can be separated through centrifugation or other processing procedures. However, he says, this only increases the odds by a few percent.

Drs. Ross and Sabanegh concur that the point for parents is to make a healthy baby, rather than a baby of a particular gender.

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