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Gender Prediction by Smell?

Katlyn Joy | 8, March 2015


You've probably heard that many pregnant many women become repulsed by certain smells. Blame it on hormones, as always. But now a new study says pregnant females may give off a smell that reveals whether it's a boy or girl she's carrying.

In a study published in last December's journal Biology Letters, researchers found evidence that many, if not all, female primates give off a pregnancy perfume that males detect. And the strength of the odor may further indicate what the baby's gender is.

For the study, researchers from University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University collected scent secretions of lemurs from their genitals onto cotton swabs both before and after pregnancy.

Study authors Jeremy Crawford and Christine Drea said scent signatures "may help guide social interactions, potentially promoting mother–infant recognition, reducing intragroup conflict" and possibly even let a father know if the child is his.

To perform the research, the samples were tested chemically for hundreds of ingredients involved in creating the animal's scent. Lemur mothers gave off simpler scents when carrying a girl, with fewer odor compounds than when not pregnant at all. When carrying a son, the change is even more pronounced.

The authors note that, "The difference in hormone profiles between pregnant lemurs carrying sons and those carrying daughters is dramatic."

Again, blame it on the hormones. The scent pattern changes based on blood hormone level changes.

Male primates having the ability to sniff out pregnancy, and possibly his connection to the offspring has obvious value in a community of sexually promiscuous species. This includes lemurs, other primates, and even humans.

The researchers hypothesize that perhaps the ability to smell gender in pregnancy may help the parents prepare for the offspring.

"It could be that producing these compounds uses resources that are directed elsewhere when they're pregnant, especially if it's more energetically costly for a female to have a male pregnancy than a female pregnancy," said Drea.

It's been suspected but unstudied whether males could smell pregnancy in females, but this is the first study to try to verify the idea. Lemurs are not particularly sensitive to smell and not regarded as especially proficient smellers, so it's likely this ability to smell pregnancy and or gender is not limited to lemurs, but most likely other primates and perhaps other animal species as well.

If this holds true, maybe we will be taking odor tests in pregnancy next to tell us gender safely. This could easily be a better prediction that the old wives tale versions, such as how high you're carrying the baby, how sick you get, or which way an object moved when dangled over a pregnant abdomen.

If we learned to become sensitized and aware of the scent, there would be no more surprise announcements of "It's a boy." You couldn't try to keep those nosey relatives in the dark until delivery. The secret would be out. If humans males could learn to detect whether a baby is his or not, Maury would be off the air. Suspected fathers could merely approach the female, take a whiff and announce, "I am NOT the father! That's not my smell!"

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Guest Mar 17, 2015 05:04:56 AM ET

This is so interesting, and believable. I smelled my cervical mucus, every now and then, with my first pregnancy. Had a fear of yeast infections (zero total). A bit stronger than I expected; it was a boy. I may be pregnant again, and my scent is light. This would be a fun way to tell the gender.

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