The first time Jennifer Newman Galluzzo, a mother of two in Brewster, New York, used a gender prediction kit, she was told she was having a boy. "And I did! Grayden is 28 months old," says Galluzzo. "So I was pretty convinced it would work a second time." Once again, the test predicted a boy and Jennifer and her husband spent the next few months talking about how great it would be to have brothers growing up together.
But during their 18-week ultrasound, the couple was shocked to learn that they were expecting a girl. "It was a tough mental readjustment for both of us," says Galluzzo, whose daughter, Gabriella, is now 9 months old. "I can't believe I put so much faith in a product I bought off the shelf at the drugstore."
Galluzzo isn't alone. In the last few years, do-it-yourself gender prediction kits have flooded the market. Sold online or at major retail outlets such as CVS and Walgreens, some kits claim to accurately predict a baby's gender as early as 6 weeks into a pregnancy. If you just can't wait for your 18-week sonogram, peeing in a cup or pricking your finger and sending a blood sample to a laboratory for DNA testing sounds like a win-win, right? Particularly appealing for many moms-to-be is the fact that these tests are noninvasive; chorionic villus sampling (CVS) and amniocentesis are invasive and have a small risk of miscarriage.
The most inexpensive type of gender predictor test uses urine to check for the presence of testosterone, the male hormone, as early as 10 weeks. Pee into a plastic cup or container included in the kit and within 10 minutes, a mix of chemicals (manufacturers won't say which one pending patent approval) causes it to change color. They're sold online starting around $20.
The problem is, the concept is bogus. "There are no sex hormones in urine that change color at this stage of pregnancy and prove one way or another the sex of the baby," says Daniel A. Potter, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at HRC Fertility in Newport Beach, California. In 2011, one major manufacturer of these kits offered to settle a proposed nationwide class action suit that said it falsely advertised the accuracy of its product.
The other type of kit sold on the U.S. market today uses a blood sample to determine gender. While a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a simple blood test can indeed accurately detect fetal DNA in a mother's blood, pinpointing the sex of an unborn child as early as 7 weeks, there's a big difference between quality-controlled studies in state-of-the-art laboratories and those you do at home. (The tests have been used in Europe for several years to help parents whose babies are at risk for sex-linked genetic illnesses such as hemophilia and muscular dystrophy.)
"There's no way to validate a company's results since they refuse to release information that can be verified by independent sources, the gold standard for any medical claim," says Mary L. Rosser, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University Hospital for Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. Nor is there any government oversight, though the Federal Trade Commission, the government watchdog for deceptive advertising, questions the reliability of all at-home genetic tests.
Blood-based tests are also pricey, with a cost of around $25 for the kit and lab fees around $200. Want your results Fed-Exed overnight? That will be $339. While manufacturers warn parents not to "paint the nursery" or make any serious decisions based on test results, Dr. Potter says the fact that these kits are sold at reputable retail outlets legitimizes them. "Frankly, you might as well tie a string around a gold ring, hold it over your belly and see which way it turns."
Dr. Rosser worries about people terminating the pregnancy based on the results of the testing. "The emotional fallout can be worse if parents have named the baby and outfitted a nursery, based on test results," says Dr. Rosser. What's more, any time you talk about predicting gender, you're standing on a slippery slope. "It's not far-fetched to say that some people may abort a pregnancy if the sex isn't the desired one," says Dr. Rosser. "And that's very troubling."
Still, for couples who buy these products with their eyes wide open, using them can be another fun thing to do as they await the big day.
As soon as Nolan Kido, a stay-at-home dad in Medford, Massachusetts, learned his wife Lisa, a dental student, was pregnant, he campaigned to find out the gender. "Lisa was skeptical but I thought it would be fun to try." When the test revealed that they were having a boy, Kido rushed out to buy a Red Sox outfit for his future son.
"We are now the proud parents of a beautiful baby girl, Arya," he reports. "She looks really cute in that Red Sox outfit."
Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation. Updated in 2018.