Last week news outlets from here to Islamabad announced the release of a study purporting to show that women with higher caloric intake and better nutrition at the time of conception are more likely to have boys than girls. Although it’s the father’s sperm that determines the sex of an embryo, the mother’s body can be more or less well suited to that embryo’s thriving.
Goodness knows I’m no scientist, but I’m fairly skeptical about these conclusions. The amount of extra calories that encouraged male embryos seemed rather small, maybe just a few hundred. Perhaps because my own daily caloric intake can swing a few hundred up or down based on one or two small choices, I find it hard to believe that most people eat with reliable consistency. What’s more, the study was based on the women’s own accounts of their diets, and people are famously bad at this kind of self-reporting. I wonder, though, if women desperate for boys will start loading up on cereal and bananas now, and potential mothers yearning for girls will start skipping breakfast.
When I read these reports last week, I thought back to what I was eating during the month our baby was conceived. This made me raise my eyebrow even higher at that self-reporting, since I (who spend a lot of time thinking about and documenting what I eat) can remember only three specific things: a failed focaccia, a delicious spaghetti carbonara on a cold night after a long walk, and some very rewarding homemade palmiers. (It isn’t clear to me whether the women in the study were asked simply to remember what they had eaten months before or to keep a food diary during the month of conception.)
I was definitely eating breakfast (I always do), but I was also trying to cut back on indulgences, having discovered the month before that a streak of reckless baking had rendered most of my pants all but unwearable. I suppose, then, that I was as close to being on a diet as I ever get—and lo and behold, we’re having a girl.
Would you change your eating habits based on this study? This first time around I did not have a preference for the sex of our baby, and I still don’t really trust these conclusions. Nevertheless, if I had three girls and we decided to have another child, I might not see any harm in switching from my morning yogurt to a bowl of cornflakes and bananas.