The Pseudoscience of Baby Gender Prediction

April 29, 2014

It's springtime and thoughts turn to romance and babies... And along with those thoughts are various superstitions about predicting the gender of those babies.

A few of the classic ways to tell whether a woman will have a boy or girl include that old chestnut that if a mother is "carrying high" she will have a girl, while a baby lower in her abdomen signifies that a boy is on the way. Some people believe that the last sexual position adopted at the time of conception influences whether it's a boy or girl. Centuries ago it was widely believed that if a child is born while the moon is shining, it will be a male, while a baby born during a moonless night will certainly be a girl. Others were sure that what a woman ate during her pregnancy was important: "A craving for sweets, if indulged in, is believed to influence the unborn babe to become a female," according to Claudia de Lys's Giant Book of Superstitions.

The scientific fact is that a baby's sex is decided at the moment of conception, and basically the result of random chance. Whichever one of the millions of sperm reaches the egg first will fertilize it, and a baby's sex is determined by the male chromosomes.

These myths are nothing new; folklorists have long documented a wide variety of superstitions about pregnancy and babies. Curiously-and somewhat predictably, given the sexism often evident in superstition and folklore-women and mothers are given an undue amount of blame for how their child turns out. One common belief was that the fears and emotional impressions experienced by the mother would be manifested in her unborn child; for example if a pregnant woman loved strawberries (or feared cats) her son might have a birthmark shaped like a strawberry, or a cat. Centuries ago a baby's birth defects were often blamed on the mother's damaged emotional or spiritual state. According to The Encyclopedia of Superstitions by Edwin and Mona Radford, "A very old superstition, not yet quite extinct, is that if a pregnant woman meets a hare, the baby will have a hare-lip [cleft palate]... the fear inspired by such an encounter was heightened by the idea that the hare might not be the innocent animal it seemed, but instead a witch in that form." This belief was also dramatically reflected in the opening scence of the David Lynch classic film The Elephant Man. 

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