Why some parents choose to find out their baby's sex and some don't

·8 min read
Curious why some parents choose to find out their baby's sex and some don't? Experts say there are benefits to both choices. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Curious why some parents choose to find out their baby's sex and some don't? Experts say there are benefits to both choices. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Are you having a boy or a girl?

It's one of the first questions pregnant women and their partners hear from inquiring minds, and the anticipation leaves many anxious and excited, especially if they've always dreamed of being a "boy mom"or "girl dad."

But while many expectant parents choose to find out the sex of their baby, others choose to wait until the moments after delivery, wanting to be surprised by whether they've welcomed a boy or a girl into the world.

"So few surprises in life are good ones," says Sarah Larkin, an ultrasound tech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and mother of three. "Especially not medical ones: Having a baby and waiting to find out the sex until birth is one of the best surprises on Earth."

How early can you find out baby's sex?

The sex of a baby is available earlier than ever these days, with some at-home kits able to detect the male chromosome in a pregnant woman's blood as early as seven weeks into pregnancy. The SneakPeek Early DNA Test, for example, claims a 99.9 percent efficacy rate, providing the sample collection is not contaminated by the DNA of males already living in the home.

Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) can separate a woman's DNA from her baby's, identifying the fetus' sex through blood work. These genetic fetal DNA tests also screen for chromosomal abnormalities like cystic fibrosis and Down syndrome, but are not covered by all insurance providers and can come with large out-of-pocket expenses.

There's also the more traditional way of learning baby's sex through an ultrasound: a non-invasive technique used to capture images inside the body.

"To be certain, [medical professionals] like to wait until the 20-week ultrasound," says Larkin, who has been performing ultrasounds for 15 years. "By that time, the genitals have formed enough to be fully recognizable."

Larkin says a baby's genitals can sometimes be seen at as early as 14 weeks gestation, but those images are not always accurate since babies can twist and turn in utero. "Their bodies can hide what we need to see," Larkin tells Yahoo Life. "If they're facing down or toward the back, you won't be able to tell."

But at-home testing, NIPT and even ultrasounds weren't always available.

My own mother, who gave birth to her first child in 1964, wasn't able to find out the sex of her first four children until birth, as ultrasound technology wasn't widely adopted until a decade later in the ’70s.

"Ultrasounds just didn't exist back then for everyday use, even in military hospitals where I gave birth," she told me over dinner. "We had to decide on a name then and there, within hours of giving birth, since you had to fill out and sign the birth certificate before you left the hospital with your baby."

What do "boy" and "girl" ultrasounds look like?

When determining the sex of the baby, ultrasound technicians look for sex organs: either the presence of a penis for a boy or labia for a girl. "Penises are pretty obvious," says Larkin. "But labias look like three white lines. Some call it a 'hamburger' because it looks like the three lines on a mobile app, which is also called a 'hamburger.'"

To avoid ruining any surprises, Larkin uses the word "baby" to refer to the fetus during an ultrasound, without subscribing to any particular pronouns unless the parent already knows the sex. "We always ask whether the parent wants to know the baby's gender before we begin every ultrasound," she says. "We don't want to spill the beans accidentally."

Here for the sex?

How many people want to know their baby's sex before giving birth and how many want to be surprised?

Larkin says in the clinic where she works, "it's about a 50/50 split," adding she's often surprised by how many people still wait to know the sex of their baby until birth.

Cameron Seamon, a nurse and mother of two from Mount Pleasant, S.C., chose not to know the sex of either of her children. "Neither my husband nor I felt strongly about finding out," she says. "I had some friends who had waited and it seemed like something that would make delivery day extra special."

Seamon had the same midwife for both of her pregnancies — a woman she says was supportive and found it fun that they'd decided to be surprised. "Most of the healthcare workers we encountered thought that keeping the sex a surprise was a fun change of pace," recalls Seamon.

Wth her first child, Seamon says several friends and family members expressed "playful frustration" at having to wait — mostly because it delayed them being able to buy clothes. By the time she was pregnant with her second, they were less surprised she and her husband had decided not to find out.

Cameron Seamon says she and her husband chose to wait until each of their children were born to learn whether they were a boy or a girl. (Photo: Cameron Seamon)
Cameron Seamon says she and her husband chose to wait until each of their children were born to learn whether they were a boy or a girl. (Photo: Cameron Seamon)

Shannon D'Aurora, an educator and mom from Portland, Oreg., also chose not to learn her baby's sex before delivery. "I felt that not knowing would help me be more open and accepting of the child that came instead of building up a preconceived image of the child I expected to deliver," she says.

D'Aurora and her husband had chosen a male name, but couldn't 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," says D'Aurora. "We ended up going with the name my husband said aloud when he saw her pop 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 a reason he and his husband didn't find out the sex of their baby until birth. "Gender is a massively problematic construct," he says. "We were both harmed by the gender norms forced on us starting at birth. Someone's gender is something that takes hold later in life — I'm 41 and I'm still figuring it out."

For some, knowing baby's sex builds connection

On the other hand, many parents feel the need to know the sex of their babies before they arrive, whether it's because they're excited about buying gender-specific baby clothes or anticipate painting the nursery a certain color based on baby's sex.

And there's always the gender reveal party: a trend that has taken hold with millennial parents over the last decade.

"Because of COVID-19, there haven't been as many gender reveal gatherings," says Larkin. "So I think that's what's behind the resurgence of parents wanting to keep the gender a secret until delivery day."

Other parents felt more connected to their baby once they knew the sex. Holly Gratza, an educator and single mother from St. Cloud, Fla., knew she was going into parenthood alone, so she was excited to bond with her baby in the months leading up to delivery.

"I had to find out because it helped me bond more with my daughter," she says. "I could dream about what she would look like and use her name when talking to my belly. By knowing the sex, I was able to get a ton of clothes from others who didn't need them anymore. I didn't have to buy anything for her until she was three — a huge savings for a single mom."

No right 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 was having the second time around.

"Even though I waited for the big reveal on the birth of my now 5-year-old daughter, I decided to learn the sexes of my twins who were born three years later," she says. "I wanted to be more prepared to add two more people to our family."

Whether parents decide to embrace the joy that comes with learning the sex of their baby while they're still developing or save their happiness for the moment their baby is laid in their arms, parents and experts say there's no correct way to do it: It's all about finding what feels right for each person's individual journey to parenthood.

"The added anticipation was so fun," says Seamon of her decision to wait to find out her baby's sex. "It felt like our normal, and that's what made it special."

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