Can You Tell the Sex of a Baby by How the Mother Is Carrying?

By: Julia Layton & Francisco Guzman  | 

pregnant woman's belly
Is she having a little boy or a little girl? The baby bump can't really help you decide. Oscar Wong/Getty Images

In a world increasingly guided by scientific explanation, there's one area where even the most rational minds might indulge in a little mythology: pregnancy. Perhaps it's the lasting sense of mystery surrounding the creation of a new life. Or maybe excited parents-to-be have trouble waiting for (expensive) medical confirmation of details like gender, which is typically revealed by ultrasound as early as 14 weeks, but typically around 18 to 21 weeks. Twenty-one weeks can be a long time to wait.

Or maybe it's just fun to speculate while you're sitting around watching your belly grow.

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No matter the cause, clearly there's something appealing about gender-predicting old wives' tales, because there are dozens of them. There's the heart-rate method, the ring-swing method, the "how sick are you" approach and Chinese lunar predictions, not to mention determinations based on keys, acne, dreams, skin tone, food cravings and Drano.

But perhaps the most popular of all "girl or boy" methods is the "high or low" determination. It typically goes: If the woman is carrying high, it's a girl; if she's carrying low, it's a boy.

This approach is so pervasive, you've probably heard it even if you've never been pregnant or been close to someone who's pregnant. People who would never swing a ring over a woman's belly to determine the sex of the fetus might give credence to the "how's she carrying" approach.

Can so many people over so many generations be wrong?

In this article, we'll find out if you really can determine gender from how a woman is carrying — and we'll talk about what "carrying high or low" even means. We'll also check out some other old wives' tales that claim to know the answer to that age-old question: boy or girl?

Of all the myths surrounding pregnancy, this approach to gender determination sounds like one of the more logical ones. But is it?

Carrying High or Low: Old Wives' Tale or Not?

woman carrying low
An older woman or one who's had her abdominal muscles loosened by prior pregnancies will usually carry lower. Plus the baby "drops" late in pregnancy. Kelvin Murray/Getty Images

Carrying high? It's a girl. Carrying low? It's a boy.

On its face, these statements don't sound all that unscientific — or least not as unscientific as the old swing a ring over a woman's pregnant belly trick. After all, it at least seems possible that the position or shape of the uterus could reflect something about the baby growing inside. And it's not just "high or low." There's also the belief that "carrying wide" indicates a girl, and "carrying narrow" means it's a boy.

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First, what do these things even mean?

High and low are about the tone of your abdominal muscles, body shape and other factors. "Carrying high" means the most protruding part of a pregnant belly (the "bump") is high on the mother's abdomen, sometimes right up under her breasts. "Carrying low" means the giant mound of baby is closer to the pelvis. "Wide" or "narrow" depends on if the baby is lying horizontally.

It turns out, the high/low method of determining a baby's sex is just as accurate as pouring Drano into a cup of the mother's urine. Which is to say, not at all. Lots of people would swear by these methods, but when there's always a 50/50 chance of being right, you're going to find lots of correct predictions.

It's unclear exactly why people believe the baby's gender determines the position of the bump, but it is perfectly clear what actually determines that position: muscles and body type. Basically, the tighter a woman's abdominal muscles (either due to age or fitness level), the higher the bump rides. An older woman or one who's had her abdominal muscles loosened by prior pregnancies will usually carry lower, whereas someone who's pregnant for the first time will usually carry higher.

And shape is related to body type — specifically, torso length. A short torso results in less room for the uterus to grow upward, so it ends up looking like a basketball bump. A woman with a longer torso has more room between the pubic bone and top of abdomen, which allows for weight to distribute evenly.

The baby's position matters, too. A baby who's stretching sideways makes a woman carry wider. And as the baby "drops" late in the pregnancy, a high bump will get lower.

Now, while old wives' tales are not actually very useful in deciding whether to stock up on pink or blue, that doesn't mean they're not fun to try. Some of them are downright wacky.

Drano and Other Pregnancy Predictors

There are as many old wives' tales about pregnancy as there are days a baby can be born. Here are nine of the best ones:

  • If you suspend a gold ring over a pregnant belly, it swings back and forth, it's a boy. If it moves in a circle, it's a girl. (This one is told either way, actually.)
  • If the fetal heart rate averages between 110 to low 130s beats per minute (bpm), it's a boy. If it's in the mid-140s to 160 range, it's a girl. (Actually, the baby's heart rate fluctuates throughout the pregnancy, and the rate is unrelated to gender.)
  • If someone pours Drano into a pregnant woman's urine and it turns bluish-green, it's a boy; if it turns brownish, it's a girl. No scientific proof this works but if you're going to try this test do it in a well-ventilated area as mixing the two items can produce toxic fumes.
  • A woman who gets prettier while pregnant is carrying a boy; a woman who gets uglier is having a girl. (The idea appears to be that the girl is stealing some of the mother's beauty.)
  • If the father gains weight during the gestation period, it's a girl. (Fathers often gain weight during pregnancy, regardless of the baby's sex).
  • If a woman gets more acne with the pregnancy, it's a girl. More of that "stealing Mom's beauty" stuff.
  • If there's more severe first-trimester morning sickness, it's a girl. The studies actually are conflicting.
  • If the linea nigra (a dark line that often appears running up the center of a pregnant belly) stops at the belly button, it's a girl; if it extends to the rib cage, it's a boy. Actually, length has nothing to do with the baby's gender.
  • If the mother-to-be's left breast grows larger than the right breast, it's a girl. A study showed that women who carried a boy had somewhat larger breasts than women who carried a girl, but the difference was not significant. And both breasts were symmetrical.

While none of these methods is going to predict a baby's gender with anything greater than 50/50 accuracy, it can be fun to experiment. The only fool-proof way to know the gender of a fetus is via amniocentesis or ultrasound. And even ultrasound can fail if the fetus has his or her legs crossed.

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Originally Published: Jul 29, 2009

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