Up until the 1980s, new parents found out whether they’d had a son or daughter in the delivery room, when the doctor announced, “Congratulations, it’s a boy/girl!” These days, many parents take the opportunity to learn the sex of their baby much sooner. Is finding out the sex of your baby early right for you?
First Trimester: NIPT and Amniocentesis
In your first trimester, you have the opportunity to choose certain screening tests that can check for some genetic problems. The tests aren’t diagnostic (i.e., a “normal” test doesn’t guarantee a healthy baby and an “abnormal” test isn’t a sure sign of genetic disorders), but they can help parents and doctors understand the likelihood of certain chromosomal conditions, like Down syndrome, trisomy 13, or trisomy 18.
Noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT) is a blood test that screens fragments of placental DNA that are circulating in your blood. Amniocentesis uses a sample of amniotic fluid, collected with a hollow needle, to examine chromosomes.
As you may already know, sex is determined by chromosomes, too. XX means female, and XY means male sex. If the doctors have a chromosome sample, they can check and see which genetic code your embryo has. You could know the sex as early as around 10-12 weeks.
Pro: This is the earliest method to find out.
Con: If NIPT isn’t fully covered by your insurance, you’d have to pay for the screening out of pocket.
Second Trimester: Ultrasound
The 20-week ultrasound is an important test to check that the baby’s forming properly. The doctor is primarily interested in checking your baby’s brain and heart, making sure the skeleton’s developing well and the spine is covered, and looking for facial problems like cleft lip. Parents want a healthy baby first and foremost, too, but you may be especially excited to learn whether you’re having a boy or a girl.
The doctors will have to get a look at the baby from the right angle to determine the sex, so you’ll need a certain level of cooperation from your little one. For some parents, knowing the sex in advance can encourage prenatal bonding, and give parents time to deal with potential gender disappointment if they were hoping for one sex in particular.
Pro: Parents who want to stock up on pink or blue baby supplies can prepare in advance.
Con: As with the earlier testing, choosing to find out now means giving up the element of surprise at the birth.
In the Delivery Room
Surprise-lovers and “old souls” may feel that the traditional, delivery-room reveal is the best way for them to meet their baby. Other parents may chafe at the strict gender split that still exists in newborn marketing (why, exactly, couldn’t a little boy like lace or a girl prefer fire trucks?). Parents who had to spend much of the pregnancy apart, for instance, for military service, may feel that the birth is the only aspect of the pregnancy they get to share, and choose to find out the sex together, too.
Whatever your reason, you can absolutely opt to wait to find out your baby’s sex. Make sure doctors and nurses know, since this choice is less common now. You don’t want to miss the announcement because the doctor assumed you knew!
Pro: This will be the biggest, most life-changing surprise of your life.
Con: In times when most parents know the sex beforehand, you might stand out. Be prepared for some surprise or even rudeness from others (although really, parents soon learn any choice has its share of critics).
Ultimately, how and when you find out your baby’s sex is up to you. What would feel most meaningful for you? Follow the choice that makes you feel happiest and most connected with your baby.