Ask a group of moms if they’ve ever had sixth sense about their child and you’ll be flooded with eerie examples and jaw-dropping anecdotes. Like the newly pregnant mom who had a dream about a co-worker telling her she was having a boy—and nine months later she did. Or the third-trimester mom who just knew in her gut that her fetus was in breech position despite her obstetrician’s denials. After 24 hours of labor, she and the doctor discovered she had been right.
But is mothers’ intuition real? Some scientific research suggests it is, including two studies that found moms correctly predicted their unborn babies’ sex most of the time. At The University of Arizona, psychology lecturer Victor Shamas, Ph.D., recruited moms-to-be who did not yet know the sex of their babies. In a whopping 70 percent of cases, the moms’ intuition about their child’s gender was on target. In a separate study, researchers at Johns Hopkins University had comparable findings. “The fact that two different labs got similar effects suggests it’s not a fluke,” Shamas says.
While much of the data on mom intuition is anecdotal, the phenomenon is no less real to moms who credit their intuitive insights with helping them better respond to their infants’ needs—or even save their babies lives. By tuning into your inner wisdom, you too can more deeply connect with your baby-to-be or newborn and parent with more confidence.
Intuition is an insight that comes to us out of the blue. “I define it as something you know without knowing how you know,” Shamas says. In his study, he ruled out women who guessed their child was a boy because, for example, they had a lot of nausea or because of how the fetus sat in the uterus. Those types of predictions are not based on intuition per se, Shamas explains, because they were influenced by a physical condition (nausea or acne) or a wives’ tale (such as, boy babies sit high in the womb).
True intuition, by contrast, tends to come not from our five senses but from a sixth sense, or gut feeling. Take Lisa Krissoff Boehm, a college professor and mom of two who lives in Massachusetts. Early in her first pregnancy, Krissoff Boehm was certain she would be having a boy—so certain she told colleagues and friends even before she had proof. People would ask me and I’d say, ‘I’m having a little boy,’ she recalls. “I don’t know why I felt so sure.” Her own mother was similarly convinced, and lo and behold, the university professor’s intuition was later confirmed by testing.
Intuition is not simply a hope or desire you have for your child, Shamas says, who found that women in his study who actually preferred one sex or the other were more likely to be wrong. “One of the things we found in our study is that women’s preferences clouded their intuition,” he notes. On the other hand, dreams are often sources of truly intuitive clues. Shamas recalls a pregnant woman who told him about a dream in which she had a sonogram. In the “dream sonogram”—and in real life—her child turned out to be a boy.
Legitimate intuition is sometimes also confused with everyday worries or fears, which might be motivated by anything from the news to a comment made by your mother-in-law. By contrast, Shamas says that, “an intuition comes in a very
dramatic and clear way—a signal that is unmistakable in a person’s mind.” Consider Gretchen, a San Francisco mother of two. In the summer of 2008, she suddenly awoke from a deep sleep one night with a “feeling” that her newborn son’s head was completely covered in a blanket. “I woke up in a panic, ran into his room, and found that he had the blanket wrapped all the way around his head,” she recalls. For Gretchen, whose baby safely slept through the incident, the experience was not the result of worrywart-itis, but something more sudden and instinctual.
At a time when expecting and new moms are inundated with too much advice—from baby books and blogs to know-it-all friends and family—intuition can help cut through the noise. Becoming a mom made Let the Baby Drive author Lu Hanessian aware of just how buried her intuition had become. During her first pregnancy, she read scores of parenting books and thought she was
ready for anything. But none of the guidebooks prepared her for a child who turned out to be “high needs.” Sensitive and uncomfortable, her baby had to be held and breastfed all the time. Later, as her son grew and his energy and reluctance to sit in the circle with other kids drew attention, her intuition became her guide. “My gut told me there was more to this picture,” she recalls.
At age 4½, her son was diagnosed with sensory integration disorder, or what Hanessian calls sensory differences. In short, the condition makes it more challenging for him to process all of the information he receives from his five senses. She arrived at that diagnosis in large part because of her intuition. “It gave me confidence when he was exhibiting certain characteristics,” she explains. “I was able to take descriptions of what he was feeling and put them through my internal gage, my gut.” When different experts offered varying opinions, her instincts served as a compass. “I felt equipped and able to take many different opinions and come to the truth.”
Jessica Silverman’s intuition also helped solve a puzzle—and save her daughter’s life. Her baby girl Kylie was just over a month old and crying constantly from what others said was colic. One night, at 3 a.m., Silverman was staring into her baby’s eyes. “It was early in the morning and I was rocking her, and I looked down and hear in the back of my head, something is not right,” she recalls. “I just kind of knew.” During one of Kylie’s checkups a pediatrician who was filling in for the regular doctor heard something more than an ordinary heart murmur and suggested she take the baby to a cardiologist. Initially family members poo-pooed the idea, encouraging Silverman to wait for the regular pediatrician’s return.
But her intuition urged her to press on and see the cardiologist anyway. “They ran all the normal tests and we waited patiently for the doctor,” Silverman says. “When the doctor walked into the room carrying a heart model, I burst into tears.” Kylie had a serious heart problem caused by Turner syndrome, a rare chromosomal disorder. Blood flow to Kylie’s heart was constricted, forcing it to work overtime and balloon to the size of an adult male heart. Surgery corrected the problem, and today, Kylie is a happy 4-year-old who most people would never guess had experienced any kind of medical challenge.
While some moms never question their inner wisdom, others, like Hanessian, may find they have to rediscover it. “Trusting your gut is not a switch you flip,” she says. “Trusting our gut is something you have to be conscious of.” In other words, it’s like a muscle you exercise whenever you struggle with doubt or face a new pregnancy or parenting challenge. So the next time someone says, “Don’t eat that” or “Let him cry it out,” gather the information you really need, then let your inner mommy decide.
—Ziba Kashef is mother of two and former editor of Pregnancy magazine.