When can you (and should you) know the sex of your baby?
Do you have a boy or a girl?
It’s one of the first questions pregnant women and their partners hear from inquisitive minds, and the anticipation leaves many anxious and excited, especially if they’ve always dreamed of being a “mom boy.” or a “daddy girl”.
But while many parents-to-be choose to find out the gender of their baby, others choose to wait until moments after delivery, wanting to be surprised whether they’ve welcomed a boy or a girl into the world.
“So few surprises in life are good,” says Sarah Larkin, an ultrasound technician in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and mother of three. “Especially not medical: having a baby and waiting to find out the sex until birth is one of the best surprises on Earth.”
From when can we know the baby’s gender?
A baby’s sex is available earlier than ever these days, with some home kits able to detect the male chromosome in a pregnant woman’s blood as early as seven weeks into her pregnancy. the SneakPeek Early DNA Testfor example, claims a 99.9% efficiency rate, provided the sample collection is not contaminated with DNA from men already living in the house.
The non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) can separate a woman’s DNA from that of her baby, identifying the sex of the fetus through a blood test. These fetal DNA genetic tests can also detect chromosomal abnormalities such as cystic fibrosis and Down syndrome, but are not covered by all insurers and can result in significant expense.
There’s also the more traditional way of finding out the baby’s gender through ultrasound: a non-invasive technique used to capture images inside the body.
“To be sure, [medical professionals] I like to wait 20 weeks for the ultrasound,” says Larkin, who has been doing ultrasounds for 15 years. “By then the genitals have formed enough to be fully recognizable.
Larkin says a baby’s genitals can sometimes be seen as early as 14 weeks gestation, but those images aren’t always accurate because babies can twist and turn in utero. “Their bodies can hide what we need to see,” Larkin told Yahoo Life. “If they’re facing down or backwards, you won’t be able to tell.”
But home testing, NIPT and even ultrasound were not always available.
My own mother, who gave birth to her first child in 1964, was unable to find out the gender of her first four children before birth because ultrasound technology was not widely adopted until a decade ago. later in the 70s.
“Ultrasounds just didn’t exist back then for everyday use, even in the military hospitals where I gave birth,” she told me over dinner. “We had to decide on a name on the spot, a few hours after giving birth, because you had to fill out and sign the birth certificate before leaving the hospital with your baby.”
What do “boy” and “girl” ultrasounds look like?
When determining the sex of the baby, ultrasound technicians look for the sexual organs: either the presence of a penis for a boy or labia for a girl. “Penises are pretty obvious,” Larkin says. “But the lips look like three white lines. Some call it a ‘hamburger’ because it looks like the three lines of a mobile app, also called a ‘hamburger’.”
To avoid spoiling any surprises, Larkin uses the word “baby” to refer to the fetus during an ultrasound, not subscribing to particular pronouns unless the parent already knows the gender. “We always ask if the parent wants to know the sex of the baby before starting each ultrasound,” she says. “We don’t want to spill the beans accidentally.”
Here for sex?
How many people want to know the sex of their baby before giving birth and how many want to be surprised?
Larkin says that at the clinic where she works, “it’s about a 50/50 split,” adding that she’s often surprised by how many people are still waiting to find out the sex of their baby until birth.
Cameron Seamon, a nurse and mother of two from Mount Pleasant, SC, chose not to know the gender of either of her children. “Neither my husband nor I really wanted to know,” she says. “I had friends who had been waiting and it seemed like something that would make delivery day even more special.”
Seamon had the same midwife for both of her pregnancies – a woman she said was supportive and found it amusing that they decided to be surprised. “Most of the healthcare workers we met thought keeping sex a surprise was a fun change of pace,” Seamon recalled.
With his first child, Seamon says several friends and family members expressed “playful frustration” at having to wait – mostly because it delayed them to be able to shop for clothes. By the time she was pregnant with her second, they were less surprised that she and her husband had decided not to find out.
Shannon D’Aurora, an educator and mom from Portland, Oregon, also chose not to learn her baby’s gender until she gave birth. “I felt that not knowing would help me be more open and accept the child that came instead of building up a preconceived image of the child I was expecting to deliver,” she says.
D’Aurora and her husband had decided on a male name, but could not agree on a female name. When their daughter arrived, they left the hospital without naming her. “They called us a few days later for the birth certificate,” D’Aurora says. “We ended up using the name my husband said out loud when he saw her walking out – it just took me a while to realize he was right.”
Jesse Hewit, an artist and father from San Francisco, Calif., also cites gender identity as the reason he and her husband didn’t find out their baby’s gender until after birth. “Gender is a massively problematic construct,” he says. “We’ve both been hurt by the gender norms imposed on us from birth. Someone’s gender is something that sets in later in life – I’m 41 and still understanding.”
For some, knowing a baby’s gender creates a connection
On the other hand, many parents feel the need to know the gender of their baby before it arrives, whether it’s because they’re excited to buy gender-specific baby clothes or they’re planning to paint the room. of a certain color depending on the sex of the baby.
And there’s always the gender reveal party: a trend that’s taken hold of millennial parents over the past decade.
“Due to COVID-19, there haven’t been as many gender reveal gatherings,” Larkin says. “So I think that’s what explains the upsurge in parents wanting to keep sex a secret until the day of delivery.”
Other parents felt more connected to their baby once they knew the gender. Holly Gratza, an educator and single mom from St. Cloud, Florida, knew she was becoming a single parent, so she was excited to bond with her baby in the months leading up to the birth.
“I had to find out because it helped me bond with my daughter,” she says. “I could dream what she would look like and use her name talking to my belly. By knowing the gender, I was able to get a ton of clothes from other people who no longer needed them. I didn’t have to buy anything for her up to the age of three – a huge saving for a single mother.”
No good answer
“It’s a very personal decision,” says Larkin, who waited to be surprised when her first child was born, then found out what she had the second time around.
“Even though I waited for the big reveal about the birth of my now 5-year-old daughter, I decided to learn the genders of my twins who were born three years later,” she says. “I wanted to be better prepared to add two more people to our family.”
Whether parents decide to embrace the joy of learning their baby’s gender while they’re still developing or save their happiness for when their baby is laid in their arms, parents and experts say there’s no right way to do it: it’s about finding what works best for each person’s individual journey to parenthood.
“The extra anticipation was so much fun,” Seamon says of her decision to wait to find out her baby’s gender. “It felt like it was normal, and that’s what made it special.”
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