The Pseudoscience of Baby Gender Prediction

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Now that there’s a new addition to Britain’s Royal Family, the question of whether it’s a boy or girl is over. But for the past weeks and months there have been countless predictions about the regal infant’s gender — much of it based on folklore and superstition.

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.”

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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, an old superstition “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.”

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No discussion of dubious Royal Baby predictions would be complete without a mention of the hordes of psychics who offered their supernatural suppositions over the past nine months.

Of course there’s a 50/50 chance of correctly guessing the baby’s sex, though apparently psychics did worse than chance. According to a press release issued a few weeks ago, “62 percent of the 50 psychics surveyed at Psychic Source, the most respected psychic service provider, predicted that the royal couple will be welcoming a female heir. Representing the majority of psychics surveyed, Psychic Ricky stated matter-of-factually: “It will be a girl. At least one of her names will be Diana.”

Other psychics offered the usual mix of contradictory advice, though to give one psychic medium named Barb Powell credit, she correctly predicted on Hollywood.com months ago that the new bouncing baby boy would not be named Diana.

With many thousands of predictions — and a relatively small number of genders and likely names assigned to the future royal heir —  it’s almost certain that some predictions were correct simply by random chance. No candy craving or psychic powers required.

Image credit: Corbis