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When you get pregnant naturally, you have around a 50% chance of having either a boy or a girl. However, for whatever reason, some parents want a child of a particular sex. Many reasons may come into play: cultural reasons, stereotyped dreams of seeing a son play football for England or of raising a girl dressed in a pretty pink tutu, or more practical reasons such as medical conditions that only affect one sex (such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy and haemophilia, which are caused by a defect on the X chromosome).
Whatever your reason behind wanting to choose the sex of your baby, here we explore the variety of methods that have been tried.
Preimplantation Genetic Screening
Do you have £15,000 (about $20,000), and a medical need to have a baby of a specific sex? If so, you may be a candidate for Preimplantation Genetic Screening (PGS).
With PGS, eggs are stimulated and retrieved in much the same manner that they would be for IVF. They are then fertilised in a lab with the partner's, or donor, sperm. When the eggs have divided into six or eight cells, a cell is removed to screen for abnormalities and gender. Only genetically-normal embryos of the desired sex are selected for implantation.
You'll face the difficult decision of what to do with your unused embryos: destroyed, frozen, or donated for adoption or research.
There is a risk that cell removal may damage the remaining embryo, and it is possible that no embryo will be suitable for implantation.
Undergoing PGS is also no protection against miscarriage. Sex-selection is also no guarantee of getting the child you "want": a child may grow up with traits you don't expect. While many parents will be happy, as long as the child is healthy, there are some who could be disappointed if the child does not have the traits they expect.
Some ethicists are concerned for the future of children born through sex-selection in countries without strict restrictions, raising the question: what will become of children who lack the traits parents expect of children of the "right" gender.
Or "Flow cytometry". Illegal in the UK, but used in other countries, this is where doctors separate the male from the female sperm. A dye is added to your partner's sperm sample; how it reacts lets the experts know the sex of the sperm. The sperm of the chosen sex can then be implanted by relatively cheap IUI (intrauterine implantation), which has a high rate of success.
Invented by Ronald Ericsson, this technique is used to prepare sperm for AI (artificial insemination). It claims to be up to 85% effective at selecting boys, and up to 75% effective at selecting girls.
Sperm is poured on a layer of sticky fluid in a test-tube. The male-sperm is faster and reaches the bottom sooner. When the fast and slow sperm are separated, you are inseminated with the sperm that will help you conceive the baby of your chosen sex.
This is less-invasive and less expensive than PGS. However, AI is less effective at the best of times, and it generally takes more cycles of AI to become pregnant. Additionally, Ericsson's claims of efficacy have never been corroborated by independent researchers.
The Shettles Method
The Shettles method, invented by Dr. Landrum Shettles, says male-sperm is faster but short-lived, while female-sperm is slower but long-lived. Therefore, if you want to have a boy, you ought to have sex as close to ovulation as possible (that day); if you want a girl, you should have sex up to four days before. In order to know when you are going to ovulate, you must keep a record of your basal body temperature (it's at its highest two days before ovulation).
A free, safe and painless method to try at home (though some may find it annoying to have to keep a constant record of their temperature), it may be worth trying. Alternatively, you can use ovulation testing strips to track ovulation.
Believers state it's 80% effective at conceiving boys and 75% effective at conceiving girls.