Intersex Baby – How Common is It and How to Treat

6 min read

Written by Editorial Team

Editorial Team

Intersex Baby

An intersex baby is born with differences in physical characteristics that do not fall into the category of a male or female. It is different from gender identity because an intersex baby is born with female organs on the outside and male anatomy on the inside and vice versa. Both are two different aspects and are many times misunderstood.

Many people assume that a baby assigned female at birth will have female physical characteristics or that a baby with ambiguous genitalia is considered transgender. Intersex is not always easily identifiable. It surfaces in some people later in life. It is also known as a Disorder of Sex development.

In This Article

What is Intersex?

Intersex is a term used to describe people born with organs that do not fit the strict male or female binary. It is natural to be born intersex and it isn’t a medical problem. Sometimes doctors do medical procedures on babies and make their bodies gender fit. But medical treatment is not necessary.

According to an estimate, in America 1-2 people born in 100 are intersex babies. It is more common than people realize.

How Common is Intersex Baby?

mom playing with infant

According to Anne Fausto Sterling’s research, 1 to 2 percent of human births do not fall into the category of male or female. To be precise, 1.7percentage of people are born intersex.

According to the biologist, it is difficult to estimate intersex babies. Parents whose children’s genitalia looks neither female nor male, opt for surgery as per the doctor’s suggestion to conform to the gender identity.

Another Turkey-based study suggests babies born with ambiguous genitalia might be more common than previously estimated findings. 1.3 in 1000 births were found intersex which is almost double the 1-in-2000 birth rate as generally cited.

Common Causes of Intersex Babies

There are four different reasons or causes for intersex babies. They are

1. 46, XX Intersex

It means the baby is born with a female chromosome, and ovaries, but the genitals are of a male. The causes for this include:

(a) When a mother takes or experiences more male hormones during the gestation period.
(b) Aromatase enzyme converts male hormones to female hormones. Deficiency in this enzyme leads to girls developing male characteristics at the Puberty stage.
(c) Mothers develop a male hormone-producing tumor.

2. 46, XY Intersex

The baby has the chromosomes of a man, but the external genitals are unclear or female. The causes of this are:

(a) Issues with the testis.
(b) Problems with the use of testosterone
(c) Difficulties with the formation of testosterone
(d) Androgen insensitivity Syndrome is another cause of the 46, XY Intersex. This means that the receptor of male hormones does not function properly despite having all the normal hormones.

3. True Gonadal Intersex

In this condition, the baby will have either one ovary or one testis; both ovarian or testicular tissue; or have XX, XY chromosomes, or both. The external genitalia may be also ambiguous or male or female. The cause for such conditions is not known.

4. Complex Intersex Disorder of Sexual Development

When the chromosomes are not simple 46 XX or 46XY but have extra chromosomes e.g. 47 XXY or 47 XXX. This creates problems in overall sexual development, problems in sex hormone levels, and affect the number of sex chromosomes.

Symptoms of an Intersex Baby

Intersex Baby picture

There is a need for a proper diagnosis to identify intersex babies. But some symptoms make it clear that there is a disorder in sex development in a baby.

The intersex baby looks like

  • Born with unclear genitalia
  • Small penis
  • Testes in baby boys turn out to be ovaries
  • Development of groin masses in girls
  • Genitalia with an unusual appearance at birth
  • The opening of the penis in a male baby is not at the tip but in some other place
  • The urine canal in a female baby opens in the vagina

Diagnosis of Intersex Baby

It is not always easy to identify intersex babies at birth even though most often it can be easily found out. Some ultrasounds too detect some unusual sex development in a baby.

Disorder of Sex development (DSD) as was earlier known is sometimes seen during early childhood while some people discover it during puberty.

Even if a doctor diagnoses your baby with DSD, it may be difficult to diagnose the type of DSD immediately. Your baby should go through several tests like hormonal tests, chromosomal tests, and ultrasound of internal genitalia. The results of these tests may take time and it may not always be definite.

Risk Factors of Ambiguous Genitalia

Ambiguous Genitalia is a disorder in sex development. This condition is very rare. Babies born with ambiguous genitalia have characteristics of both sexes or the genitals are incompletely developed.

This condition is related to genetic abnormalities that can be hereditary. Family history plays an important role in ambiguous genitalia.

The following are the risks involved in ambiguous genitalia.

  • Sudden deaths in early infancy due to unknown reasons.
  • Problem with infertility, facial hair in females, or no menstrual periods
  • Abnormal genitalia
  • Physical development in an individual is not normal
  • Inherited genetic disorders affect the adrenal glands (glands responsible for producing hormones that control important body functions)

If there is a history of these risk factors in your family, seek medical advice before you plan to conceive.

Complications of Intersex

Intersex variation in a person may give rise to various complications in childhood like access to medical treatment, exposure to clinical treatment in infancy, medical treatment for intersex birth in childhood, lack of proper counseling of parents, and genetic counseling. In adulthood, the issues range from revealing the intersex status to the partners, body image, various physical conditions linked to particular intersex variation, infertility, etc.

Top Ways to Treat a Intersex Baby

Intersex baby Treating

It is important to remember the following points to treat an intersex baby.

1. Select a Gender

Parents and doctors should come together and assign the baby a specific gender.

2. Avoid Surgery on Genitalia

A baby’s genitalia should not be operated on just to make it look more male or female unless it is medically necessary.

3. Need For a Great Team

An Intersex baby needs not just a pediatrician but other specialists like an endocrinologist, a urologist, or a psychiatrist to deal with various physical or social problems as the baby grows up.

4. Never Force the Baby or Child

It is important not to force the child to stay with the gender assigned at birth. It is their choice and decision.

5. Open Communication With the Baby or Child

It is important to talk to the child about the condition before they attain puberty as the child will notice the difference in his genitals as he turns 3 years old.

6. Seek help

Parents should seek support from other parents who are going through the same situation as far as their children are concerned. This is the most significant step.

Having an intersex baby can be a difficult challenge. A proper understanding of why this happens and how to handle your baby is important. It is equally important to give your baby a normal environment to grow up in. Identifying the right doctors and teams to help your baby is the key to ensuring that your baby has a normal and healthy childhood.


1. Is Intersex a Disorder?

Intersex is not a disorder that needs special treatment and care. Although, in some contexts, the term ‘disorder of sex development’ is used. It affects the genitals, hormones, ovaries and testis, reproductive system, and chromosomes.

2. Is Intersex a Birth Defect?

Intersex is not a birth-defect. It is wrong to assume it is an abnormality. They naturally occur in humans and are present in 1.7 percent of the population.

Read Also: Dravet Syndrome in Babies – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Editorial Team,

With a rich experience in pregnancy and parenting, our team of experts create insightful, well-curated, and easy-to-read content for our to-be-parents and parents at all stages of parenting.Read more.

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