Customs and traditions regarding pregnancy and childbirth in China
Living in China as a foreigner can be challenging on its own. However, those who are planning or expecting to have a baby here should be prepared that the concept of maternity and maternity care might differ from what’s acceptable at home. In this article by Pacific Prime China we will discuss the difference between giving birth at Chinese public and private hospitals and divulge deeper into Chinese customs and traditions regarding pregnancy and childbirth.
Chinese pregnancy and childbirth beliefs
Chinese people have their own health beliefs and practices, mainly based on the fact that food, illness, and medications are usually classified as ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ according to the perceived effects on the body. Health is believed to be a balance of positive (yang) and negative (yin) energy in the body. This is no different when talking about pregnancy and childbirth.
Many Chinese people, when they are ill or pregnant, assume a ‘sick role’ in which they depend heavily on others for assistance. Pregnancy and especially childbirth are believed to disturb the balance of hot and cold required for good health. Because of this, various dietary and behavioural practices are customary to keep the mother and baby physically healthy including:
- Eating special soups and chicken broth,
- Not eating lamb because of the belief that it may cause the baby to have epilepsy (pronunciation of word lamb is similar to the word for epilepsy in some Chinese languages),
- Not eating pineapple because it is believed to cause miscarriage.
Often, the labouring woman’s mother or mother-in-law attends childbirth, rather than the father of the child, as it is sometimes acceptable in Western practices.
Infants may be separated from their mother for at least the first 24 hours. This tradition is practiced to allow the postpartum woman to rest. The Western practice of leaving infants with their mother may not be available in public hospitals in some Chinese cities.
Also, some women may observe a period of confinement after birth, during which they rest, dress warmly, limit showers, and eat only foods classed as hot, which is quite contradictory to Western practices which encourage early return to walking and showering after birth.
Private or public hospitals
Knowing some of the pregnancy and childbirth customs in China, expats can expect a little bit different delivery experience in public vs private healthcare facilities. Expats can use public hospitals and benefit from the lower prices; however, the local healthcare centres are known for having long queues, and doctors who don’t speak any other language than Chinese. This is usually an obstacle during prenatal check-ups and delivery, and in our experience, most expatriates tend to buy prenatal packages from private hospitals or healthcare centres, so that they can receive care they need.
If you decide to use a public hospital, you’ll give birth in a shared delivery room. Also, men are not usually allowed in the delivery room, and your baby’s father may have to wait outside until you’re moved to a maternity ward. The maternity ward will also be shared with several other women in a public hospital, unless the hospital has a special VIP private ward, for which you need to pay more.
In China, a woman’s family usually looks after her in hospital and this includes washing and changing the baby, providing clean bed linen and sanitary products, and bringing food. It is not common for public hospitals in China to provide food in general. Maternity wards can be quite a busy place, especially in shared rooms, as families of all other women will be there to assist them.
Private hospitals can offer more privacy, with doctors and nurses speaking English, who might allow the men to be with the woman during the delivery, if that’s what you want.
Maternity insurance in China
If the private hospitals’ maternity costs are your concern, maternity insurance in China might ease the financial burden of delivering a baby here. Even if it’s true that private healthcare is more expensive, many of the private hospitals offer discounted pre-, and postnatal packages and brokers and insurance companies working with private hospitals can sometimes negotiate better terms.
Also, since maternity insurance plans usually require a waiting period, you will be paying maternity-related premiums for at least 10 to 12 months before the start of pregnancy, and the overall maternity costs will be distributed in time in the form of the insurance plan.
For more information, download our free Shanghai and Beijing Maternity Insurance Guide, or contact us directly for plan comparison, free quote and any other insurance-related questions you may have!
When she isn’t writing, you are most likely to find Elwira in search of the perfect plant-based burger or enjoying Hong Kong’s great outdoors either at the beach or from the boat - the closer to the sea, the better!