(BBC) A newspaper in India has offered its readers scientifically unfounded tips for ensuring they conceive boys instead of girls, telling would-be mothers to eat lots and face west while sleeping.
The sex of a child is determined by the chromosomes in the father’s sperm.
But the daily newspaper Mangalam, in Kerala state in southern India, printed six suggestions for those who want to have baby boys.
There is a cultural preference for male children in India.
“The chance of a girl or a boy at conception is totally random,” said Dr Shazia Malik, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital in London, debunking the article.
“There is no scientific evidence on any method that will change this statistical chance when a baby is conceived naturally.”
Mangalam, which filed the story in the health news section of its site, also advises potential mothers-to-be not to skip breakfast and to have sex only on certain days of the week, when the male sperm is “stronger”. It said men can play a role and help strengthen their sperm by avoiding acidic foods.
But the strength of a sperm does not affect the baby’s sex. The only way a baby can be male is if the fertilising sperm carries a Y chromosome.
Feminist Indian website The Ladies Finger translated the article from the original Malayalam language, which is spoken in Kerala.
“With all these inconvenient laws regarding sex determination, it is a relief that there is finally a fool-proof checklist to follow for boy-bearing,” The Ladies Finger site wrote, sarcastically.
Tests to determine a foetus’ sex are illegal in India, but that does not stop them taking place and leading to sex-selective abortions.
In 1961, there were 976 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of seven. According to the latest census figures, released in 2011, that figure had dropped to 914.
Gita Aravamudan, Indian author of Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide, said Mangalam’s article is not likely to have a major impact, especially as it is written in a minority language, but it is one of many articles, “remedies” and old wives’ tales that offer ways to avoid having a female baby.
“This article is even more ridiculous than usual, but such ideas are common,” she told the BBC.
“It shows that attitudes like this still flourish despite initiatives taken by the Indian government, NGOs and health workers. The message isn’t going through: people still value boys more than girls.”
The preference for boys is longstanding in some cultures, and often comes from men being seen as the stronger sex and financial providers for families, especially during parents’ old age.
In India, dowries, paid when girls eventually marry, are also seen as a high cost that could be avoided.