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Sex ed Prenatal Care

Sex ed

Get schooled on the how, when and why of learning whether you have a boy or girl on the way.

“Do you know what you’re having?” It’s a question the expectant crowd grows accustomed to hearing again and again throughout pregnancy. While query-weary moms-to-be might be tempted to retort, “a human,” they could know the desired answer to the boy-or-girl question as early as 10 weeks of gestation.

In the know
Whether they’re keen to paint baby’s bedroom walls blue (or pink) or simply want to jump-start the bond with their future son or daughter, plenty of parents opt to find out the sex of their baby ASAP.

In some cases, the added info makes things seem more real. “After going through multiple rounds of full-blown IVF,” explains Jenn Kiziak of McAllen, Texas, “we felt like knowing gave us an extra sense of ‘this is really happening.’”

Of course, practicality factors in, too. “Obviously the logistical part helped,” adds Kiziak. “We could choose names and buy things on sale over the following months.”

Shelly Meyer of Royal Oak, Michigan, agrees. “We waited to create our registry and plan the nursery until after we found out,” she says. “And we are now more excited than ever that it’s a boy.”

It’s not just parents who benefit from being informed. Big siblings-to-be often latch on to the idea of a brother of sister. “I think that knowing that baby No. 2 is a boy has helped our daughter prepare better for the huge changes coming,” says Jaime Nash of Spartanburg, South Carolina. “Because she’s never had to share us with a sibling, we felt that involving her as much as possible would help her understand—and accept—the changes.”

Whether you’re a planner, your partner is a pragmatist or your kiddos simply require a little preparation, it’s easy to see the perks of a prebirth reveal.

In the picture
If you decide to learn baby’s sex before he or she is born, you’ll most likely do so between 18 and 20 weeks. “People who are going to find out usually do so at the anatomy ultrasound,” says Stephanie Dukhovny, MD, OB/GYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. “That’s the ultrasound where we look at the head-to-toe baby and all the parts that have developed. … At that time, we can also see the gender.” That is, if baby cooperates.

“There’s a very typical picture you see for a female baby where you can see the labia, and there’s a very typical picture you get of a baby boy where you can see the scrotum and the penis,” says Dukhovny. But if the baby isn’t positioned just so, it could be difficult to decipher. “If you can’t see a scrotum or a penis, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a girl. It may just be that you’re at the wrong angle.”

If a stubborn baby refuses to budge, his or her parents might simply have to wait it out. “Sometimes I tell the family I can’t tell the gender because the baby has its legs crossed,” admits Dukhovny. If another ultrasound is scheduled, baby may be more obliging then. If not, mom and dad can rest assured baby’s sex can’t stay secret forever.

In our blood
In certain circumstances, moms may not have to wait until the prenatal halfway point to be clued in on baby’s sex. Noninvasive prenatal tests are often used between 10 and 22 weeks in high-risk pregnancies to test for Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities, but as a bonus, they can also detect the presence of a Y chromosome in the mom-to-be’s blood sample. If a Y chromosome is identified, it’s a boy; if not, it’s a girl.

After her challenging journey to conceive, Kiziak was eager to learn more about her impending bundle of joy. “We found out at 13 weeks through genetic testing that the little being growing inside of me was a boy,” she shares. “A boy! We were beyond thrilled to put that extra piece of information into loving our baby. It gave me an extra something to know that baby was a healthy ‘he.’”

Dawn Madden of Elizabethtown, North Carolina, received early results as well. “We found out the sex by blood test at 14 weeks, due to our age and history,” says the soon-to-be mom of four. “We are overjoyed!”

Some moms get the news via invasive prenatal tests, such as amniocentesis and CVS, which also allow for the identification for Y or X chromosomes. Keep in mind, however, that, like noninvasive prenatal tests, these procedures are typically reserved for high-risk pregnancies. Sex identification is only a secondary purpose, so insurance companies don’t always cover the tests in “normal” pregnancies.

In the dark
While it’s common and convenient to find out what you’re carrying around inside that big, round bump of yours, you certainly don’t have to. In fact, some parents-to-be relish the surprise, arguing that it’s well worth the wait—and even claiming the desire to know offers incentive to push a little harder while in the throes of labor.

“It’s a lot of fun when families decide not to find out because it’s so rare,” says Dukhovny. “We like to make a big deal out of it in the delivery room. Who wants to tell her? Do you want it to be the dad? Do you want us to say it out loud?” When parents have waited nine-plus months, the medical team wants to make sure the reveal goes exactly according to plan.

Fortunately, Rachel LaPlante of Eliot, Maine, had her ideal delivery debut. “After a hard labor with preeclampsia, my husband whispered, ‘It’s a girl!’ as [our baby] was placed on my chest,” LaPlante recalls. “That moment is etched in my memory and still brings me to tears 15 months later.”

In fact, the experience was so meaningful the first time that she and her husband are planning a repeat performance. “Now, 33 weeks pregnant with our second, my husband said we are absolutely waiting again. He loved being involved in the birth in that special way. I know … this second time will be as magical as the first.”

Rebecca Gehrken of Terryville, Connecticut, has opted to keep her baby’s sex under wraps as well. “Our journey to conception hasn’t been an easy one. … This is our first healthy, normal pregnancy, and we couldn’t be more excited.” After a tough year of miscarriage and heartache, she explains, “This time around, finding out the gender didn’t faze us at all, as long as we have a healthy baby—and that we do.”

Although Gehrken underwent blood work at 12 weeks that could have spilled the beans, she and her husband decided to keep the sex a secret. “The doctors know, but for us, it will be a surprise.”

Whether you wait and wonder or decide to be clued in early on, go with what your gut tells you to do. (Just make sure your partner is on board, too.) “It’s very personal, just like any other choice in pregnancy,” says Dukhovny, so don’t let pressure from society or your girlfriends influence your choice. At whatever point you find out your baby is a boy or girl, the moment you do is inevitably exciting. “It seems kind of silly because there are only two choices,” says Dukhovny, “but no matter how or when you find out, it’s always a lovely surprise.”