BEIJING — "Our little monkey has decided to join the fun," said Lucy, a 33-year-old woman expecting her first child this October. She's one of many happy Chinese women due to give birth in the year of the monkey, an animal that is associated with cleverness in the Chinese zodiac calendar.
A Founder Securities report released in July showed that China's major cities are seeing a baby boom this year. The lifting of the one-child policy and the popularity of the monkey zodiac led to this boom. The surge in births has far surpassed the numbers estimated by obstetrics and gynecology hospitals as well as by the country's family planning agencies. An additional 3 million Chinese babies are expected to make their appearance in the coming year.
China expected about 80,000 to 90,000 couples every month in 2015 to request permission to have a second child. But the actual number of applications was more than double those figures, according to statistics from the national health and family planning commission.
Taken by surprise, hospitals in megacities such as Beijing are under pressure. Dr. Li Zhi at Beida International Hospital said the capital city welcomed 170,000 newborns last year. That number is likely to exceed 400,000 this year — far beyond the capacity of Beijing's 380,000 maternity beds.
Lucy's family wakes up as early as 4 a.m. to get her an appointment for a pregnancy checkup so she won't be stranded in the hospital the whole day.
In China, maternity wards are the sites of the highest number of disputes between doctors and patients, which routinely prompts many doctors to leave. One hospital noted that the frequent shortage of medical staff would increase the risk of delivering babies.
Nurse and a "little monkey" at the Gansu maternity in Lanzhou — Photo: Chen Bin/Xinhua/ZUMA
Chinese believe that last year, which was the year of the goat, symbolizes hardship in life. Many parents timed their pregnancy to skip last year and have their baby this year instead. Lucy said three of her colleagues at a communication firm she works at have already delivered "little monkeys" this year.
An increase in baby products and services
Like many Chinese parents, Lucy began shopping for her baby the day she learned of her pregnancy. "So far, I have spent over 10,000 yuan ($1,500) buying feeding utensils, clothes and other baby care goods," she said with a smile. "Not to mention bulkier stuff, like a stroller and car seat."
In recent years, pregnant women in China are enthusiastic participants in online parenting sites, where they chat with other expectant mothers and consult experts. Since most of them grew up while the economy boomed, they share a desire to give their offspring the best.
Companies selling baby milk formula expect the baby boom to benefit their businesses. The wages of Yuesao, nurses who help care for the baby while the mothers rest, have shot up due to high demand for their services. A Yuesao's remuneration has gone up from 8,000 yuan ($1,200) last year to between 10,000 ($1,500) and 15,000 yuan ($2,260) this year.
No one is exactly sure how long the baby boom will continue.
Chinese media and research institutes believe that women's social advancement and the heavy costs associated with raising and educating a child will make parents not want to have more than one child. They believe that when people are accustomed to having one child and have been comfortable financially, they will be reluctant to change the situation.
Authorities and experts predict that the baby boom in China is likely to persist next year, reach its peak in 2019 but drop off thereafter.