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can fetal heartbeat reveal gender?
July 27, 2021

Can a Baby’s Fetal Heart Rate Reveal Gender?

ThedaCare Physician Explains “Gender Disappointment” and How to Cope

When a woman is expecting a baby, there are several milestones throughout the pregnancy. Many times, now with the advancements in science, we can tell the baby’s gender as early as 10 weeks. It can be very exciting to learn any new details about the growing baby so soon-to-be parents can prepare and celebrate with family and friends.

“Some families may choose to do non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) early in the pregnancy,” explained Dr. Amy Mandeville, a Family Medicine and Obstetrics Physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca. “We can complete this testing starting at about 10 weeks. This is a method of determining the risk that the fetus will be born with certain genetic conditions like Down syndrome. This test also gives early information about gender, and results are typically back within a week.”

Dr. Mandeville added that around 20 weeks, it is recommended to complete an anatomy scan to assess growth, look at the placenta and umbilical cord, and examine all parts of the fetus. It is also another opportunity to determine gender, or the sex of the baby.

“NIPT testing is about 99% accurate,” she said. “The 20-week anatomy ultrasound is about 95% accurate in gender determination. It is important for families to know that there is not a 100% accurate method to determine gender and sometimes we have surprises. There are also times where we might not be able to determine the gender from the ultrasound based on the baby’s position or other factors.”

People may also turn to “Old Wives’ Tales” as a way to learn the baby’s sex. There are several theories that are believed to reveal the gender, but most are just folklore. According to Merriam-Webster the definition of old wives’ tale is often a traditional belief that is not based on facts, is usually false and is often created by superstition.

The old wives’ tale about learning the baby’s gender based on the heart rate during an ultrasound says that the baby will be a boy if the fetal heart rate is lower, and a girl if it is higher.

“These old wives’ tales can be interesting,” said Dr. Mandeville. “It’s important to remember that we should not take them as fact. Several studies have been done regarding fetal heart rate. The evidence shows there is no difference in the average of female or male fetal heart rates. The baby’s heart rate also changes throughout the pregnancy with higher heart rates noted at the beginning of pregnancy.”

Dr. Mandeville added it’s still neat to have some lighthearted fun.

“It’s fun for family and friends to guess and play these games,” she said. “I’ve heard many wives’ tales about pregnancy and childbirth. For example, patients tell me that relatives predict gender by the way they carry the baby, carrying lower for boys, and higher for girls. Again, it is just important for families to remember that these are not accurate methods of gender prediction.”  

In addition to hoping for one gender or another, Dr. Mandeville explained there could be other reasons why a family may want to learn the sex of the baby before he or she is born.

“Some genetic conditions are associated with a specific gender,” she said. “Some of these conditions are also associated with pregnancy loss. In these cases, families may want to know the gender as soon as possible.”

Understanding “Gender Disappointment”

Whether the baby is a boy or girl, most expecting parents just want a healthy baby. However, there are times when families might experience “gender disappointment”. The term describes the feeling some may have when the baby is not the hoped-for daughter or son. Some may experience mild to extreme disappointment, grief, and even depression

Dr. Mandeville said it’s important to first understand why they’re enduring gender disappointment so they can learn to cope.

“I think the first step is figuring out why someone might be feeling that disappointment,” she said. “Once we understand, we can better figure out how to support these families.”

Parents may be hoping for one gender or another for several reasons. Some may want siblings of the same gender, close in age. Other parents may want only two children – a boy and a girl. Dr. Mandeville also noted some expecting parents may focus on the activities they think they’ll get to do with a baby if it’s a girl or a boy. In reality, she said we have no idea who that little person will be as they continue to grow.

It’s important for families to discuss these feelings if they are present. Parents sometimes feel ashamed and guilty for having these feelings of disappointment.

“Early in pregnancy, I encourage expecting couples to find a provider who they feel really comfortable talking to,” she said. “There are many things that come up for expecting parents and their partners, outside of gender disappointment. Common concerns include wondering if baby will be healthy, concerns about being a good parent, and concerns about the labor process. Our goal is to work with families to help them find the joy that comes with welcoming a new baby into their family.”