Detecting Gender Before Birth: Advances in Non-invasive Prenatal Testing

Every culture has their own myths intended to make predictions about a baby’s gender before it’s born. Whether it’s the amount of heartburn experienced by the mother-to-be or the shape and positioning of her belly, people have been trying to make guesses about a developing fetus for hundreds of years. However, pregnancy today is radically different than it was for previous generations of women. Scientific advances have provided the ability to “see,” feel, and get to know things about your baby before he or she is even born.

Gender prediction

In recent years, one of the most common trends to take over event calendars and social media have been gender reveal parties. These gatherings usually include families and friends coming together to celebrate, give gifts, make guesses, and ultimately learn whether the new baby will be a boy or a girl. These revelations are usually done in a creative way with a sudden display of pink cake or blue confetti leading to cheers from the crowd. But how do we find out the gender of a baby?

As medical science progresses, we are able to detect the gender of a new family member earlier and earlier. This can be done in several ways: ultrasounds, invasive prenatal testing, and non-invasive prenatal tests.


The most common method of determining a baby’s sex before it is born is through ultrasound. A determination about the baby’s sex can usually made by the ultrasound technician after the eleventh week of pregnancy. The accuracy of this determination in the first trimester can vary though, as there is usually a high error rate during this period. The quality of the ultrasound equipment and the experience of the technician can also play a role in accuracy of prenatal sex determination through ultrasound.

Invasive Prenatal Testing

More invasive prenatal testing methods, like amniocentesis, are also able to give a definitive answer about the baby’s sex. During an amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling exam, a needle is inserted into the uterus to get samples of the fetus’ amniotic fluid or chorionic villi (a part of the placenta) for testing. These forms of testing are typically used to provide diagnostic evidence that an unborn baby has a certain genetic disorder. While information about the baby’s gender can be obtained from these tests, they aren’t recommended for that purpose because they aren’t usually performed until close to mid-pregnancy, when ultrasound can give a more accurate answer, and because they are associated with an increased risk of miscarriage (usually one percent or less).

Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing

Non-invasive prenatal testing can be performed as early as nine weeks into a pregnancy to determine a fetus’ risk for being born with a genetic condition and determining gender without risk to the baby. Using only a blood sample from the mother, lab technicians are able to isolate DNA from the fetus and test it for the presence of a Y chromosome (indicating a male child) to determine the sex of the child. At the same time, they are also able to determine the child’s risk of being born with several possible genetic disorders, like trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome). This information can be valuable for more than just picking a color for the nursery, but also to prepare for any specific healthcare that the baby might need after birth.



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