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Can you really choose the sex of your baby?

For as long as we've been making babies, people have been exchanging ideas about how to increase their chances of having either a boy or a girl. You might have hear, for example, that

You're more likely to conceive a boy if...

• You have sex / self-inseminate donors sperm on the day of ovulation, as male sperm are thought to swim faster and reach the egg first

• you reach orgasm before your partner, as this releases an alkaline fluid, thought to be more male-sperm friendly than the vagina's natural acidity

• you have deep penetration during sex, such as from behind (doggie-style)

• your partner or sperm donor has a high sperm count. This is because male sperm are not as strong as female sperm, and so the higher the count, the more chance there is of a male sperm reaching the egg first

• you avoid sex for a week before ovulation and then only have sex once on ovulation day, to keep the sperm count high

• your partner suggested the love-making

• you make love at night

• you make love on odd days of the month

• your partner or sperm donor keeps his genitals cool by wearing boxer shorts and loose-fitting trousers

• you eat salty food, plenty of meat, fish, white flour, pasta, fresh fruit, certain vegetables, but avoid milk and dairy products, such as yoghurt and cheese, nuts, chocolate, shellfish and wholemeal bread.

You're more likely to conceive a girl if...

• You have sex / self-inseminate donor sperm earlier on in your cycle, a few days before your day of ovulation. This is because female sperm are thought to be stronger and therefore last longer than male sperm, who will die off before reaching the egg

• your partner reaches orgasm before you

• you have sex frequently to lower your partner's sperm count, and so increase the chances of the female sperm reaching the egg first

• you keep penetration shallow

• you stop having unprotected sex four to five days before ovulation, to minimise the chances of the male sperm reaching the egg first

• your partner or sperm donor keeps his genitals warm by wearing close-fitting underwear and tight trousers (although this isn't likely to do his general fertility any good!)

• you suggested the love-making

• you make love in the afternoon

• you make love on even days of the month

• you put a wooden spoon under your bed and a pink ribbon under your pillow

• you drink plenty of milk and eat dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt, unsalted foods, rice, pasta, certain vegetables, mineral water, limited amounts of meat and potatoes, but avoid salt and any salty foods, wine and beer, fresh fruit, spinach, tomatoes and mushrooms, chocolate, coffee and tea.

Some of these kind of sound like old wives tales to me!

So how about we look at more scientifically based findings, based on research and factual evidence relating to choosing the sex of your baby?
This was the best information I could find...

Choosing your baby's sex: what the scientists say

Can we choose the sex of our child?

Yes, choosing the sex of your child is technically possible thanks to advances in fertility treatments that allow doctors to create or identify embryos of a certain sex. But today's sex-selection options aren't equally effective, affordable, or available. In addition, some techniques are unregulated in the UK.

The most accurate sex-selection methods are only allowed in the UK for medical reasons. They involve invasive infertility treatments and fertility drugs with side effects. They can also be very expensive. To use one of these techniques, you'll have to meet strict eligibility requirements. Other techniques are less accurate and only currently available in the UK in clinics which are unregulated.

Alternatively, there are some at-home techniques. These low-tech methods are noninvasive and affordable, and can be done in the privacy of your own home. However, their effectiveness is questionable at best.

Keep in mind that Mother Nature has already tipped the odds a bit in favour of boys in the sex-selection game. According to data released in 2006 from the Office for National Statistics, approximately 1,052 boys are born for every 1,000 girls.

Read on for more information on how today's sex-selection methods work, whether you're eligible to try them, and how much they cost.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD)

What it is
An in vitro fertilisation technique in which embryos are created outside the womb and can then be tested for genetic disorders and gender.

In the UK, PGD is strictly regulated and can only be used to help couples or individuals with serious genetic disorders, such as haemophilia and cystic fibrosis. The technique reduces the risk of having a child suffering from the same condition. The gender of the embryo is used to select embryos for implantation where an inherited disease follows the male or female line, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which only affects males. PGD is so tightly regulated in the UK that the HFEA decides whether the technique can be used on a case-by-case basis.
It is illegal to use this technique in the UK for sex selection purposes other than for medical reasons.

Almost 100 per cent effective.

How it's done
During an IVF cycle, eggs are fertilised with sperm in a petri dish. A single cell or cells are later removed from each of the resulting 3- to 5-day-old embryos and tested for gender.

In a regular IVF cycle scientists try to determine which embryos are normal merely by looking at them under a microscope. But with PGD, the embryos are tested thoroughly for genetic abnormalities and sex. By transferring only healthy embryos to the uterus, you're less likely to miscarry or have a child with a genetic disorder. Prenatal tests such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS) are still recommended if you're 35 or older because more genetic abnormalities can be detected later in pregnancy.

In a regular IVF cycle, doctors usually transfer two or more embryos to your uterus; the number depends on your age and the quality of the embryos. (If you're 40 or older, typically three embryos may be transferred.) But in PGD, doctors transfer no more than two because they've already weeded out embryos that are unlikely to implant or to result in a healthy pregnancy.

If you do get pregnant, PGD guarantees with almost 100 per cent certainty that you'll have a baby of your desired gender.

Following a PGD cycle, remaining embryos of the selected gender are automatically frozen. These can be used in another attempt, if you miscarry or decide you want more children down the road. Frozen embryo transfers aren't as successful as fresh transfers, but the procedure is less invasive and significantly cheaper.

A single round of PGD is extremely expensive and, although it is available on the NHS, funding is very limited.
• The procedure is invasive and the removal of eggs from your ovaries can be painful.
• The fertility drugs you have to take can have uncomfortable side effects such as weight gain, bloating, swelling, and blurred vision.
• As with any IVF pregnancy, you're more likely to have a multiple birth. According to the latest statistics from the HFEA, about 25 per cent of live births conceived by women as a result of fresh IVF were multiples (HFEA 2006/2007b). This rate falls with increasing age of the mother.
• About 20 per cent of PGD cycles result in a live birth, which is slightly lower than the rates for IVF (POST 2003).
• You'll need to decide what to do with the embryos of the undesired gender: freeze, destroy, or donate for other couples or research.

IVF cycles cost an average of £3,000, not including the costs of the consultations, tests and drugs (HFEA 2006/2007c). PGD adds an additional cost to the bill.

You must have a medical reason such as a family history of genetic diseases to qualify for PGD.

Not all fertility clinics in the UK are licensed to carry out PGD. The HFEA website can be used to help you find a clinic that does.

For more information
Visit the HFEA website which covers recommendations for its use, including qualifying medical conditions.


What it is
A sperm-sorting technique that aims to separate faster-swimming boy-producing sperm from slower-swimming girl-producing sperm. Sperm of the desired gender are inserted directly into your uterus via artificial insemination (AI).

Ericsson claims his technique is 78 to 85 per cent effective when it comes to choosing boys and 73 to 75 per cent effective for girl babies.

How it's done
This technique, which has been around since the '70s, attempts to separate boy and girl sperm by pouring a sperm sample on a gluey layer of fluid in a test tube. All the sperm naturally swim down, but the boys tend to swim faster and reach the bottom earlier. Once the fast and slow swimmers are separated, you're inseminated with the sperm that will enable you to conceive the gender you desire.

• Inexpensive compared to higher-tech methods.
• Noninvasive.
• Relatively safe.

• There's no guarantee of success. The technique's pioneer, Ronald Ericsson, has published extensively and clinics offering the technique in the UK claim a success rate of approximately 75 to 80 per cent. But some fertility experts dispute this figure (POST 2003).
• AI is not as effective as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), and it may take many cycles to achieve a pregnancy, depending on your age and fertility.

Approximately £4000 for four attempts at conception (POST 2003).

Available to anyone who can afford it at private clinics in London and Birmingham in the UK. The technique is unregulated by the HFEA.

For more information
Learn more about this method at Ericsson's website.


Shettles method

What it is
Timed intercourse on specific days of your cycle.

Shettles proponents claim the technique is 75 per cent effective, but other experts dispute this. Keep in mind that you always have about a 50 per cent chance of conceiving the sex you want.

How it's done
The theory is that sperm bearing Y chromosomes (for boys) move faster but don't live as long as sperm that carry X chromosomes (for girls). So if you want a boy, the Shettles method argues, you should have sex as close as possible to ovulation. If you want a girl, you should have sex two to four days before you ovulate.

• Requires no drugs or invasive medical procedures.
• Free or low cost.
• Relatively safe.

• You must take your basal body temperature every day to figure out when you're ovulating, or use an ovulation prediction kit.
• There's no guarantee of success.

Anyone can try it.

For more information
• Read How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby, by Landrum Shettles, M.D., and David Rorvik.

Whelan method

What it is
Timed intercourse on specific days of your cycle.

Elizabeth Whelan claims her technique is 68 per cent effective for boys and 56 per cent effective for girls, but many experts dispute this. Keep in mind that you always have a 50 per cent chance of conceiving the sex you want.

How it's done
The Whelan method directly contradicts the Shettles method. The theory here is that biochemical changes that may favour boy-producing sperm occur earlier in a woman's cycle. So if you want a boy, you should have intercourse four to six days before your basal body temperature goes up. If you want a girl you should have sex two to three days before you ovulate.

• Requires no drugs or invasive medical procedures.
• Free or low cost.
• Safe.

• You must take your basal body temperature every day to figure out when you're ovulating, or use an ovulation prediction kit.
• There's no guarantee of success.

Anyone can try it at home.

For more information
• Read Boy or Girl? The Sex Selection Technique That Makes All Others Obsolete by Elizabeth Whelan.

Sex-selection kits

What it is
These at-home kits are based on the Shettles theory. Separate girl and boy kits include a thermometer, ovulation predictor test sticks, vitamins, herbal extracts, and douches that are supposedly gender specific.

Kit makers claim a 96 per cent success rate. But the American Society for Reproductive Medicine tells consumers not to bet on it. Some medical experts go a step further and say the kit maker's claims are without scientific merit.

How it's done
You track your cycle using the thermometer and ovulation predictor test sticks (which you urinate on). Following the Shettles method, you have intercourse two to four days before ovulation if you want a girl and as close as possible to ovulation if you want a boy. The douche is intended to change the vaginal environment to "influence the chances that either an X-carrying sperm or a Y-carrying sperm will be successful in fertilizing the egg." Vitamins and herbal extracts are also included to supposedly boost your odds of getting the gender of your choice.

Requires no invasive medical procedures.

The success rate claimed by the makers is questionable.

Around £100 for a 30-day kit.

Sex-selection kits are available from the US through GenSelect.

For more information
Learn more about sex-selection kits at GenSelect's website.


The bottom line: what do the experts say?

High-tech sex-selection methods have stirred hot debate across the country. Some experts think it's a great way to balance families, while others think we're heading down a slippery slope. There are ethical debates about the rights of unwanted embryos and worries that widespread use of sex selection methods could skew the sex ratio of the general population (POST 2003). A public consultation on sex selection carried out by the HFEA found that the majority of people (80 per cent) did not support the use of such techniques for non-medical reasons (HFEA 2003). The HFEA recommended to the government that sperm sorting should become regulated, which could ultimately mean that it becomes illegal in the UK to use the procedure for non-medical reasons, such as "family balancing" or social reasons.

Low-tech sex selection has not sparked the same controversy, probably because these methods are far from foolproof and the assumption is that couples practicing them are investing less, both financially and emotionally, in their success. But do they work?

These techniques range from Shettles and Whelan to folklore such as making love standing up and eating more meat if you want a boy, and eating lots of chocolate and having sex in the missionary position if you want a girl.

"I tell my patients that if they want to try low-tech methods, give them a go," says Brian Acacio, a fertility specialist and medical director of the Sher Institutes of Reproductive Medicine (SIRM) in Los Angeles. "They probably won't hurt, and there's a 50 per cent chance they'll work."

Created March 2007 -


HFEA. 2003. HFEA announces recommendations on sex selection [Accessed March 2007]

HFEA. 2006/2007a. The HFEA Guide to Infertility. London: Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. [Accessed March 2007]

HFEA. 2006/2007b. National IVF live birth rates – Guide to Infertility 2006-07. [Accessed March 2007]

HFEA. 2006/2007c. Facts and figures. [Accessed March 2007]

ONS. 2006. Birth statistics: Review of the Registrar General on births
and patterns of family building in England and Wales, 2005. London: Office for National Statistics [Accessed March 2007]

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The Child Listener™ has a private practice in Queensland, Australia and
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