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9 Historical Methods for Determining the Sex of an Unborn Baby

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Are you pregnant? Do you like eating poultry and venison, and talking about jousting and knight stuff? Well, then you’re obviously carrying a boy. Like dancing and music? It’s a girl.

Sure, it’s not the most scientific of determinations, but for women living in a world before ultrasounds, there was no way to tell just what or who or how many were in there. Modern technology has made a window into a place which, for hundreds of thousands of years, only speculation illuminated.

So, if you don’t have the benefit of that window (which, by the way, isn’t always clear), how did you tell whether you were carrying a boy or a girl? And perhaps even more important, could you choose which?

Before we get to the good stuff, here’s a quick Bio 101 primer on how it really works: Human sex differentiation is dictated by the XX/XY system. The egg cell (we’ll call her Sally) contains one lady-making X chromosome; the sperm (let’s call him Harry) can carry either an X or a Y chromosome. When Harry meets Sally (see what we did there?), whether they’ll make a boy or a girl is dependent on which chromosome Harry’s packing. The Y chromosome stimulates testis formation in the fetus, and thus male sexual development; no Y chromosome, the gonads become ovaries and you’ve got yourself a girl. Pretty simple (except when there’s an anomaly, such as Klinefelter’s syndrome, an extra X chromosome attached to the XY that can manifest in decreased fertility, increased breast tissue, and other ways). The sex of the infant is set, though possibly not in stone, as soon as the sperm fertilizes the egg, but the sexual bits don’t develop for several weeks. Most parents don’t find out their baby’s gender until the 20-week scan, if they do find out at all. 

1. Ways to Game the System

So making a boy or a girl the old fashioned way is a bit of a crapshoot—it’s whichever sperm survives the cervical gauntlet. Nowadays, fertility specialists can make and identify embryos of either sex, but it’s generally frowned on (and illegal in the UK, except in cases in which you have a serious genetic condition that you risk passing on to a child of a certain sex).

But not really having a ton of control over the situation didn’t and doesn’t stop women from trying to game the system. The Distaff Gospels is a collection of medieval European women’s medical lore recorded in the late 15th century; it’s also responsible for the above gender stereotyping about jousting and dancing. The Gospels recommended having the man turn his face towards the east during sex if the couple is trying for a boy; to have sex in the morning if you’re aiming for a boy and in the evening and night if you want a girl; or not to have sex right after a meal if you want a boy. Another medieval source recommends that the gentleman quaff a cocktail made of red wine and pulverized rabbit’s womb, while the lady do shots of red wine and dried rabbit’s testicles.

Of course, if you want to try for a particular sex (say, if you’re modern royalty tasked with producing a son and heir), then there are couple things that you can do. There’s the Shettles method, based on the notion that Y-toting sperm are faster swimmers than X-toting sperm, but don’t live as long. If you want a boy, then, you should try to have sex as close as possible to ovulation, to give the male sperm a fighting chance; if you want a girl, you should have sex two to four days before you ovulate. There’s also the Whelan method, which is kind of the opposite: If you want a boy, you should have sex four to six days before you’re about to ovulate and if you want a girl, two to three days before. The Whelan method is predicated on the idea of basal body temperature affecting sex determination.

Once the egg is fertilized, however, how do you know what you’ve got in there without the benefit of a window?

2. The way you walk

Walk with your right foot first, you’re having a boy; the opposite, you’re having a girl. This was according to the Distaff Gospels again—a wonderful source for medically questionable stunners, some of which were, if not exactly prescient or accurate, at least well-intentioned: For example, the Gospels cautioned that if at the hour of conception, “neither feels affectionate love for the other, a female of bitter disposition is born.”

3. The salt test

The Gospels again: “When a woman is carrying a child and she wishes to know whether she is carrying a boy or a girl, you should sprinkle salt on her head while she is sleeping, so gently that she is unaware of it. When she wakes, note what name she says first. If she says a man’s name it will be a boy and if she says a woman’s name it will be a girl.” Or maybe she’ll just wake up saying the name of the weirdo who put salt on her head.

4. Ask Mom

“If a pregnant woman wants to know the gender of the child she is bearing, listen to her and she will reveal it herself,” the Gospels said. “When she asks: ‘What do you think I am carrying?’, if you say: ‘A lovely boy’, and she does not blush, you should know for sure that she will have a girl.”

Blushing aside, there is some evidence that women have a sort of mother’s intuition about what’s going on in there: According to The Sun, a study found that women with no prior knowledge of their baby’s gender guess the sex correctly 71 percent of the time. Presumably, these researchers did not ask the mothers-to-be by using the “key test”—place a key in front an expecting mother and if she grabs it by the fat end, she’s having a boy, and by the narrow end, a girl.

5. Morning sickness

This is one of those old wives’ tales that is not only literally an old wives’ tale (the women in the Distaff Gospels were old and wives), but is also believed today—the idea that how and when you are sick when you’re pregnant can give some clue as to whether it’s a boy or a girl. According to the Gospels, you’re sicker in the first three months with a girl than with a boy, but a boy causes pain after the first trimester. But according to current medical professionals, if you suffer badly from morning sickness (a horrible misnomer if there ever was one) or are ill throughout your pregnancy, you’re more likely to be carrying a girl.

6. Fat daddy?

According to myth, if the father piles on the pounds during the mother’s pregnancy, then she’s carrying a girl; interestingly, Danish researchers conducted a study of 100 fathers-to-be and discovered that indeed, those who had little girls were heavier at their births than those who had boys.

7. Sweet or sour?

Because girls are naturally sweet, if you’re carrying one, you’ll crave sweet foods; boys, being made of snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails, make you crave sour and salty foods. Fact. (Except not really.)

8. One Ring to Bind Them…

When you’re not using your gold ring to enslave Middle Earth, you could possibly use it to determine the sex of your unborn child. Perhaps the most popular gender determination myth is that a gold ring suspended on a string over a pregnant woman’s belly will tell you what she’s carrying by how it swings: Side to side for a boy, circular for a girl. It’s not always accurate, of course, but will be right 50 percent of the time.

9. How you’re carrying

When I was pregnant with my son, we decided not to find out his gender; that occasioned a lot of people to inform me that they could tell whether I was harboring a blue or a pink based on how I was carrying. According to the very ancient lore, if you’re carrying a lower bump, it’s going to be a boy; if it’s higher, it’s a girl. According to the people who predicted my baby’s gender, he had a 50 percent chance of being a boy and 50 percent chance of being a girl, based on their scientific analysis. Thanks. How you’re carrying is not, scientists say now, a good indicator of your baby’s gender—it has more to do with your baby’s muscle tone, your personal shape, and even how old you are when you get pregnant.

Do you know any great baby gender determination old wives’ tales?

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Aflac's Robotic Duck Comforts Kids with Cancer
Aflac
Aflac

Every year, close to 16,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer. That news can be the beginning of a long and draining battle that forces kids and their parents to spend large amounts of time with medical providers, enduring long and sometimes painful treatments. As The Verge reports, a bit of emotional support during that process might soon come from an unlikely source: the Alfac duck.

The supplemental insurance company announced at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that it has partnered with the medical robotics company Sproutel to design and manufacture My Special Aflac Duck, a responsive and emotive sim-bird intended exclusively for children undergoing cancer treatment.

When a child cuddles the fuzzy robotic duck, it can cuddle back. It reacts to being cradled and stroked by quacking or moving its head. Kids can also touch special RFID chips emblazoned with emoji on the duck's chest to tell it how they’re feeling, and the device will mimic those emotions.

But the duck isn’t solely for cuddling. In “IV Mode,” which can be switched on while a child is undergoing IV therapy, the duck can help the user relax by guiding them through breathing exercises. Accessories included with the toy also allow children to "draw blood" from the duck as well as administer medication, a kind of role-playing that may help patients feel more comfortable with their own treatments.

Aflac approached Sproutel with the idea after seeing Sproutel’s Jerry the Bear, a social companion robot intended to support kids with diabetes. Other robotic companions—like the Japanese-made seal Paro and Hasbro's Joy for All companion pets for seniors—have hinted at a new market for robotics that prioritize comfort over entertainment or play.

My Special Aflac Duck isn’t a commercial product and won’t be available for retail sale. Aflac intends to offer it as a gift directly to patients, with the first rollout expected at its own cancer treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia. Mass distribution is planned for later this year.

[h/t The Verge]

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15 Amazing Kids Who Are Making The World a Better Place
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

From pint-sized activists to elementary school entrepreneurs, the digital world has been instrumental in giving a global platform to anyone who wants to make a difference—regardless of age. Need proof? Look no further than the 15 amazing kids highlighted here, each of whom is doing his or her part to make the world a better place.

1. DALIYAH MARIE ARANA

Daliyah Marie Arana
Haleema Smith Arana

Studies show that the typical American will read around five books per year. Well, 5-year-old Daliyah Marie Arana of Gainesville, Georgia, does that in a week. What's more impressive: She read more than 1000 books before she even entered kindergarten. Her love of reading became so prolific that it caught the attention of the Library of Congress, where she was invited to serve as Guest Librarian in January 2017.

“I want to inspire all the kids at my school to read more,” Arana tells Mental Floss. “I read to my 5-month-old baby brother, Demetrio, every day because I want him to learn to read before age 2!”

That same passion extends to her community, where Arana says, “I want to work with my mom to make my school the best group of readers in Georgia!” —Jay Serafino

2. GISELLE BAZOS

Gizelle Bazos
Courtesy of Ann Bazos

Nine-year-old Giselle Bazos has solved a problem that plagues kids her age: lost retainers. Her invention, the Retainer Container, prevents kids from losing their dental appliances while they eat. “I have a retainer that I lost a couple times,” Bazos tells Mental Floss. “I found it really hard, especially when you are eating, to keep it somewhere where it won’t get thrown away or broken.”

Her storage container can be worn on the wrist, so that a kid’s retainer never actually leaves their person. (Which is good news for parents, too, as it can cost as much as $600 to replace a lost retainer.) Bazos got to present her idea at the National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo in the summer of 2017. Though right now she’s more focused on being a regular fourth grader than manufacturing the device, we’ll be looking out for her next brilliant invention. —Shaunacy Ferro

3. ROBBIE BOND

Robbie Bond
Photo courtesy of Michelle Bond

This past April, the president issued two executive orders that hit close to home for 9-year-old Robbie Bond. They threatened the protected status of 27 national monuments, including Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Bond’s home state of Hawaii. He knew he had to do something, so with his family he decided to hit the road. Bond's mission is to visit each of the 27 vulnerable monuments while raising awareness of the issue among both kids and adults. He’s already well on his way to achieving that goal, and tracks his progress on his website, Kids Speak for Parks.

“I love when I visit schools and interact with my peers and they tell me about their experiences visiting national parks and monuments,” Bond tells Mental Floss. “At every National Monument I have visited, the community has welcomed me and people have taken the time to educate me about the uniqueness and significance of each monument.” —Michele Debczak

4. HENRY BURNER

Henry Burner
Sarah DeNike

When a school trading post project tasked fourth grader Henry Burner with bringing in something to sell to his classmates, he didn’t want to go the traditional baked goods route. Instead, Henry made and sold his own pinback buttons with the help of his mom’s button machine. The success of his creative project spawned an idea.

“I did so well at my trading post that when I got home I asked mom whether I could ‘make real money doing this,’” Burner tells Mental Floss. He began selling his buttons at farmers markets, but when the season ended and the markets began to close, he said, "My mom suggested e-commerce and that's when the business really took off!” 

Now as the founder of Buttonsmith, Inc., Burner—who was named as one of Forbes's notable 30 Under 30 in the retail and ecommerce industry—is creating jobs in his hometown of Carnation, Washington. With a patent pending on the design, his products are available both online and in Walmarts across the country. While Burner cites "selling more than $1 million gross in 2017, being in 1600 Walmarts, [and] being able to sell custom products on Amazon" as some of his biggest achievements, he's also very conscious about the kind of company he wants to run. He's proud of Buttonsmith's "products [being] 100 percent made in the USA, being a union shop, and creating 10 good jobs for our employees!” —JS

5. AMARIYANNA COPENY

Mari Copeny
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

For years, residents of Flint, Michigan have had to deal with a water supply known to contain dangerous levels of lead and other contaminants that irritate the skin. To make sure President Barack Obama was aware of the situation, 8-year-old Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny wrote a letter to the White House in March 2016. After not hearing back for months, Copeny’s mother, Loui Brezzell, got a call from Washington: The President was coming to Flint and wanted to meet Copeny.

Known as “Little Miss Flint” from her days in beauty pageants, Copeny became a lightning rod for the water crisis in her town. “When we found out the water was making us sick, I decided I wanted to stand up and give a voice to the kids in Flint that couldn’t stand up and speak for themselves,” she told Fortune.

Copeny—who has more than 21,000 Twitter followers—has since spearheaded a charity movement to donate 1000 school backpacks to area students. In November 2017, her tireless community efforts were recognized by Central Michigan University, which presented Copeny with a $25,000 scholarship to the school. —Alvin Ward

6. SOPHIE CRUZ

Sophie Cruz
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SOZE

Sophie Cruz has proven that you’re never too young to start caring about national issues, especially when your family’s fate hangs in the balance. Her story got global attention in 2015 when, at just 5 years old, she handed the Pope a letter and a hand-drawn illustration in hopes that he could help change U.S. immigration laws, which threaten to deport her parents, who are both undocumented immigrants. The illustration was of Cruz, her family, and the Pope joining hands, with “My friends and I love each other no matter our skin color,” written in Spanish across it.

Her story continued at the Women’s March in January 2017, where she made a speech to the crowd in both English and Spanish, pleading with them to fight for immigrants around the country. “We are here together making a chain of love, to protect our families,” Cruz, who was just 6 at the time, told the massive crowd. “Let us fight with love, faith, and courage so that our families will not be destroyed.” Cruz's story has become a rallying cry for nonprofit organizations like Fighting for Families. —JS

7. ADDISYN GOSS

Addyison Goss
Courtesy Snuggle Sacks

Ten-year-old Addisyn Goss, of Fenton, Michigan, met her grandfather for the first time in 2015. He was very sick, with one leg amputated, and had been homeless for six years. “So many of his stories made me sad, and I wanted to help others that might be homeless,” Goss tells Mental Floss. With her family’s help, she bundled donated toiletries, clothes, snacks, and blankets into 50 individual bags she dubbed Snuggle Sacks, which they delivered to the homeless in Lansing and Flint. Soon they were giving out 50 each month; now it’s 500. Goss’s nonprofit has handed out 3200 survival kits so far.

“I like seeing how the Snuggle Sacks really help people,” she says. “We have met lots of very nice people, and see them over and over again. They tell us how happy they are to get a new pair of socks, or the gloves, and how it helps them stay warm and safer. That makes us feel good. And, my brother and sister help me every day, so we are very close now.” —Jennifer Pinkowski

8. RYAN HICKMAN

Ryan Hickman
Photo courtesy Damion Hickman

Ryan Hickman’s passion for the environment began early. When the 8-year-old was just a toddler, his father, Damion Hickman, would take him on trips to their local recycling center in Orange County, California. These outings inspired Ryan to launch his own recycling business, Ryan’s Recycling, with help from his community.

In just five years, Hickman has recycled nearly 300,000 cans and bottles. He has also raised more than $5000 for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, a marine mammal rescue center, by selling company-branded T-shirts. “I love recycling because it helps keep trash from getting into the ocean near where we live and that helps the animals in the ocean,” Hickman tells Mental Floss. —Kirstin Fawcett

9., 10., AND 11. JACKSON, TRISTAN, AND VIOLET KELLEY

Tristan, Jackson, and Violet Kelley
Photo courtesy Heather Kelley

In the summer of 2009, the Kelley brothers—Jackson, then 10, and Tristan, almost 8—launched Backpacks for New Beginnings, a charity that provides backpacks and school supplies for underprivileged kids around the Boston area. “We wanted to create a charity where we could do more than donate money or toys," the brothers told Mental Floss by email. "We wanted it to be a charity for kids run by kids.”

They fundraise, shop for items—which also include warm clothes, toiletries, and other basics—manage around 30 volunteers, and coordinate deliveries themselves, donating more than 7500 backpacks in the past nine years. And they show no signs of stopping—especially now that their 7-year-old sister Violet has gotten involved.

Though Jackson is now a freshman in college, he still plans on staying involved from afar and during the summers, and hopes to found a new chapter wherever he ends up after graduation. In the meantime, 16-year-old Tristan is spearheading the effort at home, and Violet is preparing to take over the operation in the future. —SF

12. ROBBY NOVAK

Robby Novak

Navigate past YouTube’s sea of unboxing videos and famous cats and you’ll sometimes find someone worth your time—Robby Novak being a prime example. Since 2013, the 13-year-old has been posting videos as “Kid President,” featuring optimistic and enthusiastic addresses from his cardboard Oval Office that have promoted charitable causes, like urging people to donate clothes and meals to the needy. In other clips, he uses humor to make salient points about empathy. “Before you say something about the barbecue sauce on somebody else’s shirt, take a look at the barbecue sauce on your own shirt,” he says.

Novak’s high spirits are in contrast to his osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that causes his bones to be abnormally brittle and has prompted over 70 bone breaks in his life. Novak’s infectious energy has been viewed by—and inspired—millions, including Real President Barack Obama, who visited with Novak when he invited the performer to the White House for the annual Easter Egg Hunt in 2013. —AW

13. SUNSHINE OELFKE

Sunshine Oelfke
Photo courtesy Jackie Sue Oelfke

Most kids break open their piggy banks to buy games or toys, but 5-year-old Sunshine Oelfke found a more important way to use her savings. She started gathering up her own change after learning that a friend at school didn’t have enough money to buy milk. Sunshine’s mom, Jackie Oelfke, helped her fill a baggie with cash and take it to school, but they didn’t stop there. They decided to extend Sunshine’s good deed with a GoFundMe campaign that raised money for more kids who can’t afford milk. “I want all my friends to have milk and lunch,” Sunshine tells Mental Floss. “I want all my friends to be happy.” —MD

14. GITANJALI RAO

Gitanjali Rao
Discovery Education/Andy King

Gitanjali Rao, a seventh-grader from Colorado, won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge and was named "American's top young scientist." Her winning project? An inexpensive, portable, accurate device that tests lead contamination in drinking water and a smartphone app that analyzes the results, which she created after seeing news stories about lead in Flint, Michigan's water system. With her $25,000 prize, Rao hopes to fine-tune her invention—which she named Tethys, for the Greek goddess of fresh water—and ultimately help people make sure their water is clean. “I believe [Tethys] could have helped the people of Flint if they had it earlier,” Rao told The Denver Post. “My next step is to find out for sure.” —Kat Long

15. CARL SCHECKEL

Carl Scheckel
Photo courtesy William Scheckel

Carl Scheckel, 10, uses his love of comics to entertain soldiers and veterans. It all began when Carl (with help from his dad, William Scheckel, an adjunct professor at New York Institute of Technology) launched a website, Carl’s Comix, to post reviews of works and interviews with comic book creators. “One of my readers asked me if I would want to donate comics to veterans,” Scheckel tells Mental Floss. “I liked the idea and took 400 comics of my own and asked dealers, collectors, and creators I know if they would like to donate comics too. I raised 3500 comics!”

The Department of Veteran Affairs arranged for Scheckel's comics to be donated to a local veterans hospital and Army base, and thousands of additional donations poured in when news spread about his good deed. Scheckel plans to give a portion of these extra works to Maryland’s Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “I hope that when people get these comics, it reminds them of home and gives them something fun to do!” he says. —KF

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