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Pregnancy Myths

Fact or Fiction?

MYTH: If the fetal heart rate is below 140 beats per minute, it's a boy; if it's above 140, it's a girl.
Shawn A. Tassone, M.D. (OB/GYN)

From ten weeks until delivery, a routine doctor's visit includes listening to the fetal heart rate with a Doppler device. Many patients ask us whether or not the heart rate of the baby can determine its gender. Although we've heard it reversed occasionally, it seems to be widely accepted by most patients that a heart rate above 140 is most likely to be a girl. This myth crosses all cultures and age groups. No one seems to know where it came from. In fact, in our research, few theories even exist.

Studies, however, show no significant difference between a male and a female heart rate, at least statistically speaking. The normal heart rate for a fetus is anywhere from 120 to 160 beats per minute. The heart rate will fluctuate from beat to beat and demonstrates what is called fetal heart rate variability. The developing fetal brain is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response) and the parasympathetic (relaxation) system. As the brain develops, these two systems engage in a power struggle. The heart rate speeds up when stimulated by the sympathetic system and slows down when controlled by the parasympathetic response. So, depending on the arousal of the fetus, the heart rate can be 130 on one day, 110 the next, and 150 the next. We usually listen to the fetal heart rate for about ten to thirty seconds at a time. If the baby is awake and moving, the heart rate may be higher than if it is sleeping.

We can extrapolate this theory. Men and women, boys and girls do not have different heart rates based on gender. The heart rate in a healthy individual is a response to external stimuli and not necessarily caused by the gender of the individual.
Shawn A. Tassone, M.D. author of "Hands Off My Belly! The Pregnant Woman's Guide to Surviving Myths, Mothers, and Moods"
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