What's really behind the 'ring test' for telling an unborn baby's sex?

By: Debra Ronca  | 

The ring prediction method is so old and enduring that it's just about impossible to unearth how it even started.
The ring prediction method is so old and enduring that it's just about impossible to unearth how it even started.
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When a woman is expecting a baby, the most common question she hears is "Is it a boy or a girl?" Some people like to wait until the birth and be surprised. Others get so excited, they'll try all sorts of things to predict the sex of the baby before it's time for an ultrasound. In fact, 50 to 70 percent of expectant parents want to find out the sex of their unborn child [source: Walsh]. With dozens and dozens of old wives' tales passed down through generations of women, there's no shortage of ways to try to guess the sex of your baby. Some swear by these tests, and some just do them for fun. Let's take a closer look at one of the more popular: the ring test.

With the ring test, you take the pregnant woman's wedding ring (or other important ring) and tie it to a thread or string (some women use a strand of hair). The pregnant woman lies down, and you dangle the ring over her baby bump. If the ring swings in a circle, the baby will be a girl. If it swings back and forth, the baby is a boy. Although, as with many stories and folktales repeated over the years, some people say the opposite — a circle means a boy and back-and-forth means a girl.

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We know, logically, that this isn't a scientific method of determining the sex of an unborn baby. In fact, the ring prediction method is so old and enduring that it's just about impossible to unearth how it even started. However, is there anything to these old wives' tales? Can they actually be accurate?

The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health was curious about this, too. In 1999, researchers there asked 104 pregnant women to predict the sex of their unborn babies, using whatever method they preferred — the ring test, other folklore, or dreams and hunches. The women had a 55 percent success rate, which is the same as taking a wild guess [source: Johns Hopkins]. It seems the ring test, and others like it, don't really predict anything.

Like all superstitions or folklore, though, our brains are wired to want to believe. Cornell University psychology professor Tom Gilovich says that we, as humans, look for cause and effect where there is none [source: Spencer]. For example, someone we knew used the ring test, the ring swung in a circle, and our friend had a girl. That's coincidence, though — not magic.

So why do we keep doing it? Maybe because it's fun, maybe because it's wishful thinking. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, however, found something interesting. Pregnant women are more likely to listen to the opinions of their friends and family than to medical advice [source: Nicolson]. Which may be why old wives' tales endure.

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Originally Published: Aug 18, 2015

At-Home Gender Test FAQ

What is a baby’s gender test?
A gender test is a method of determining the sex of an unborn baby. There are various types of baby gender tests including ultrasound and bloodwork, as well as common unscientific methods that are based more on folklore.
How can I find out my baby’s gender at home?
If you want to find out your baby's gender at home, you first need to accept that you only have about a 55 percent chance of being correct. According to folklore though, the baking soda gender test can help. This method involves combining a pregnant woman's urine with baking soda to see if it fizzes. If the urine fizzes, then it’s a boy. If nothing happens, it’s a girl. There are also many other at-home prediction “tests” that can apparently tell you the sex of a baby, though non of them are scientific.
Is a blood test 100 percent accurate for gender?
Generally, blood tests are very accurate in determining the sex of a baby. Statistics show that they give the correct result about 95 percent of the time.
How early can you do a home gender test?
You need to be at least 7 or 8 weeks pregnant for most at-home NIPT tests and there are only a few companies offering them. Popular brands include SneekPeek, Peekaboo and eGenderTest, which vary in price from $65 to $169.
Can you find out the gender at 12 weeks?
Normally, you can opt to find out the sex of the baby at the 20-week ultrasound, as the genitals are visible starting around the 12-week mark. If you’re comfortable with bloodwork, you may be able to find out the sex after nine or ten weeks. The caveat is that this test - called an NIPT - is primarily for genetic conditions, so you can’t get one just to find out the baby’s sex unless you pay for one privately.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • FitPregnancy. "Old Wives Vs. Science." 2014. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://www.fitpregnancy.com/pregnancy/pregnancy-health/old-wives-vs-science
  • Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Educated Moms Better at Predicting Baby's Sex." Aug. 31, 1999. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/1999/predict-baby-sex.html
  • Nicolson, Paula, Rebekah Fox and Kristin Heffernan. "Constructions of Pregnant and Postnatal Embodiment Across Three Generations." Journal of Health Psychology, May 2010. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://hpq.sagepub.com/content/15/4/575.abstract
  • Spencer, Susan. "Superstitions: Why you believe." CBS News. Oct. 28, 2012. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/superstitions-why-you-believe/
  • Walsh, Ella. "10 ways to predict your baby's sex." Kidspot. Aug. 9, 2010. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://www.kidspot.com.au/familyhealth/Pregnancy-Health-10-ways-to-predict-your-babys-sex+3485+184+article.htm
  • WebMD. "Predicting Your Baby's Sex." 2003. (Dec. 10, 2014) http://www.webmd.com/baby/features/predicting-your-babys-sex

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