Family Matters

Boy or Girl? Change Your Diet, Micromanage Sex — and Other Pregnancy Myths

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After I had my son, I desperately wanted a girl. When I got pregnant again, I was so convinced another XY was on the way that when the doctor delivered our daughter (XX, that is) and announced as much, I asked my husband: “Is he kidding?”

Had I only followed a strict meal plan of nuts and hard cheese, I presumably needn’t have waited on pins and needles — at least according to a study by Maastricht University in The Netherlands. The authors say a mother’s diet can determine whether her nursery ends up being swathed in pink or blue. So to boost the odds of having a girl, mothers should say, yes, to calcium and magnesium (think yogurt, spinach, tofu, almonds, cashews, beans, oatmeal, broccoli and oranges) and, no, to salt and potassium (anchovies, olives, bacon, salami, smoked salmon, shrimp, potatoes, processed meats, bread and pastries). Combine a strict diet with some carefully orchestrated sex — to increase the likelihood of having a girl, the researchers recommend avoiding sex immediately before and after ovulation — and apparently it can make all the difference.

News reports about the study, including this one in the U.K.’s Daily Mail, have crowed about the nearly 80% success rate of the baby-girl diet. But the fine print — and common sense — call into question just how realistic this recipe for baby-making actually is. Of the 172 women who participated in the five-year study, only 21 ended up adhering to the stringent guidelines about what to eat (at least a pound of dairy each day) and precisely when — and when not — to rendezvous with their lovers. Of those 21, 16 ended up bearing daughters: voila, 77%.

The study further concluded that what the women ate was more important than when they had sex. “The results show that both diet and timing methods increase the probability of 
a girl — the impact of the diet being the most pronounced,” said a spokesman for the researchers.

But don’t start stuffing the fridge with Stonyfield Farms just yet. “There is no physiological probability to any of this,” says Dr. Richard Paulson, director of the fertility program at the University of Southern California. “This is a great example of what we call non-science.”

This is probably not the first time you’ve heard about diet influencing gender. Researchers at the University of Exeter in England surveyed 740 first-time mothers and announced in 2008 that those who ate more calories — particularly those who ate breakfast cereal — had more sons. Nor is the advice new to avoid sex right before and after ovulation in order to birth a girl. When I was new to baby-making, a girlfriend told me about the Billings Method, a natural family planning method that involves timing of ovulation, which some rely upon to help select the baby’s sex. Twice it let me down. (But a Nigerian study cited in Billings Method: Controlling Fertility Without Drugs or Devices reports that 310 couples who tried to conceive a boy were successful, while only four were not. Similarly, of 92 couples who tried to conceive a girl, only two failed. Daughters are apparently not so beloved in Nigeria.)

The timing factor was also famously espoused by Landrum Shettles, a Columbia professor who wrote How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby, which has sold over a million copies since coming out in 1970. Shettles postulated that male sperm are speedier swimmers, while female sperm are hardier and tend to outlast the guys. Hence, sex at ovulation should result in a boy, since male sperm should reach the elusive egg quicker, while sex a few days before or after ovulation should yield a daughter owing to the tenacity of the female sperm.

True or not, many have been persuaded. When Paulson addresses medical students and asks who believes it’s possible to alter the probability of conceiving a boy versus a girl, half of would-be doctors raise their hands. What do you think?

Here are nine other tried (but not likely true) ways to select the sex of your baby:

Go Blue:

-Have sex on the day of ovulation

-Avoid sex for several days before ovulation in order to concentrate the male’s sperm count

-Don’t spare the salt; eat meat and fish but steer clear of dairy

-Drink multiple cups of green tea daily

Pick Pink:

-Have sex several days before or after ovulation

-Have sex — lots of it — to decrease sperm count

-Stash a pink ribbon beneath your pillow

-Men, take a hot bath prior to intercourse because male sperm may be heat-averse

-Eat chocolate!