Baby boom in China expected in Monkey Year
AS THE Year of the Goat ambles out, China suddenly finds itself facing a bumper harvest of babies in the coming Monkey Year, which will put a strain on the country's childbirth services.
Many couples in their 30s and 40s are planning or due to have their second child this year, following the government's lifting of the one-child restriction in October.
They, together with younger couples who will be having their first child, will likely boost the number of newborns this year to exceed last year's 16.55 million.
The surge is expected also because the Year of the Goat has been widely considered not a good time to have babies, resulting in many couples postponing births to after Chinese New Year next month.
In fact, last year's newborns were some 320,000 fewer than in 2014, the Year of the Horse.
In Tianjin, according to the northern city's official Maternity and Infant Care Centre, the bookings at maternity hospitals for pregnancies due this year are already 40 per cent higher than the total number of babies born locally in 2015.
"I'm no longer young... but because my husband's parents believe a 'goat' baby will have a hard life, we have delayed our plan for the second child," a woman told the Tianjin's Everyday Xinbao.
"This year, my husband and I could have a second child without facing a fine. Perhaps the government may add another bonus - such as longer maternity leave for mothers," another mother-to-be told the newspaper.
Last year, Tianjin's No. 1 Central Hospital delivered about 2,800 babies, fewer than half of the number in 2014.
Xiao Sha, deputy director of the hospital's gynaecology department, said: "This year, the number of newborns would spike and surpass even that of 2014."
In Beijing, as early as last August, the number of maternity bookings for births due this year has already exceeded 50,000, according to the Chinese capital's Health and Family Planning Commission.
Most of these were in response to the government's earlier concession - before the full lifting of the one-child policy in October - in allowing parents who were themselves the only child to have a second kid.
Most of the Beijing mothers-to-be are aged between 26 and 40 and not exactly young by Chinese standards, reported the China National Radio.
The deluge of newborns in a country used to enforcing a stringent one-child policy means many hospitals will be caught short-handed, with their facilities overwhelmed.
Wang Xiaorong, deputy head of Beijing Maternity Hospital's gynaecology department, told the Beijing Business Daily: "This hospital now has only 70 gynaecologists but we need at least another 35 to cope with the coming surge."
Other hospitals in Beijing face a similar situation, with paediatricians also complaining that post-natal service would be inundated by babies.
Hospitals are also expecting more delivery complications as many women would be mothers of advanced maternity ages trying for a second child.
Cui Hongyan, chief gynaecologist of Tianjin's No. 1 Central Hospital, said: "Our hospital has specially trained more than 20 nurse midwives, and there are now up to five for every shift." He emphasised that these helpers are key in easing doctors' workload.
China had, for years, mulled over scrapping the one-child policy, following forecast that the country would age fast if the birth rate remained capped, with people above age 60 making up a quarter of the population by 2033.
The government's eagerness to see a bonanza of babies is reflected in a postage stamp recently issued by the China Post in commemoration of the coming of the Monkey Year.
It features a female monkey holding two baby monkeys - a rare breakthrough in official drawings as portrayal of abundant births had been taboo for decades.