1: It’s Illegal to Find Out Your Baby’s Sex Ahead of Time
Because of China’s one-child policy, it’s not only frowned upon, but technically illegal to find out the sex of your baby before birth. This may seem like an extreme measure, but it’s designed to prevent selective abortion of female fetuses. Officially, no hospital will tell you whether to expect a baby boy or girl. However, the law is somewhat haphazardly applied to foreign couples; sometimes, the ultrasound technician can be persuaded to give a hint.
2: Newborns Are Routinely Vaccinated Against TB and HBV
In Chinese hospitals, newborns are usually vaccinated against two diseases at birth: tuberculosis (TB) and the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The World Health Organization recommends the Bacillus Camille-Guérin (BCG) vaccine for all countries in which tuberculosis is endemic, including China. The BCG vaccine leaves a small, raised scar, which many adult Chinese people have on their upper arm. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is another major health concern; it is estimated that, of the 350-400 million people infected with hepatitis B worldwide, one third live in China. As a result, newborns are generally vaccinated against HBV within 24 hours of birth. However, families that do not plan to stay in Beijing long-term and/or send their kids to local schools may decide to opt out of either vaccine; just be sure to make it very clear to the staff before the baby’s birth – otherwise, your baby might get jabbed with a shot you didn’t ask for.
3: Circumcision Is the Exception, Not the Rule
Whether it’s a matter of hygiene, religion, or simply personal preference, many parents choose to have their newborn son circumcised. However, as more than one family has found out, surgical removal of the foreskin is not common in China. Hospitals must have the correct licensing and facilities to perform the procedure, so be sure to ask ahead of time. Beijing United Family Hospital is licensed to perform circumcision.
4 :When It Comes to Names, You Cannot Have Your Cake and Eat It Too
Many huaqiao (overseas Chinese) and mixed-nationality couples choose both an English name and a Chinese name for their baby. However, only one name can be recorded on the birth certificate, so parents must choose whether to record the baby’s English or Chinese name. For example, let’s say your baby girl is called Nancy Chen and her Chinese name is 陈美银 (Chen Meiyin). On the birth certificate, you’ll have to decide between listing her name as Chen Meiyin (in pinyin and Chinese characters), or Nancy Chen in English only. Keep in mind that you’ll have to use the same name to apply for your child’s passport at the embassy.
5: China Doesn’t Recognize Dual Nationality
Applying for your child’s passport can be a bit tricky if you’re part of a mixed-nationality couple. By law, any baby born to a Chinese national in China automatically takes on Chinese citizenship. For your child to assume another nationality, you’ll technically need to renounce their Chinese citizenship before applying for a foreign passport. Here’s the annoying part: You’ll have to visit the public security bureau (PSB) in the Chinese parent’s hukou to do so. For example, if your spouse is from Chongqing, you’ll have to go to the PSB in Chongqing to renounce your baby’s Chinese citizenship. Once that’s done, the local PSB in Beijing can process your child’s foreign nationality and passport, as well as issue a visa and residence permit. There are instances where children have de facto dual citizenship – for instance, more often than not (though it’s not always guaranteed), if one parent carries a Beijing hukou.
6: New Moms in China May Feel Obliged to Stay Indoors for One Month
Chinese tradition dictates a 30-day period of postnatal confinement called zuo yuezi (坐月子) or, literally, “sitting out the moon.” New mothers are cautioned against bathing, cold foods, and venturing outside the house. These measures often seem draconian to foreigners, but the idea is to let women to rebuild their strength. It’s not all bad; in general, eating more protein and getting plenty of rest is beneficial to women who just gave birth. Nowadays, many younger or city-dwelling Chinese follow less restrictive versions of zuo yuezi; they may decide to shorten the confinement period, or – gasp – continue to shower and brush their teeth.
7: Postnatal Ayis Command Much Higher Prices
In the pantheon of domestic helpers, postnatal ayis known as yuesao (月嫂) rank near the top. Looking after both baby and mother, yuesao are in charge of everything from cooking to cleaning and even breastfeeding consultation. Many Chinese mothers employ a yuesao for the yuezi period. Yuesao are typically contracted through an agency, but come at a price; families who live in the CBD can expect to pay at least RMB 6,000 per month for a yuesao’s services. Yuesao is not to be confused with you’er sao (幼儿嫂), or a nanny who specializes in looking after young children. A you’er sao’s salary ranges from RMB 4,000 to 5,000 a month in the CBD area.
8: Dads Aren’t Always Welcome in the Delivery Room
In Chinese hospitals, fathers are generally not permitted into the delivery room during the birth of their child. The exact terms vary: Some might not allow dads anywhere near the delivery room, while others permit fathers into the delivery room after the actual birth. Before choosing a hospital, check their policy – especially if the father wants to be present during the delivery.
9: Caesarean Sections Are Extremely Common in Chinese Hospitals
Before giving birth, talk over your options in detail with your doctor and your family. In general, vaginal births are preferred over C-sections by Western doctors, while C-sections remain the more common option in China. Reasons for the rise range from superstition (wanting the baby to be born within a specific month) and lowered cost to convenience. Back in 2010, it was estimated by the Beijing Municipal Health Bureau that 51 percent of babies in Beijing were born via a C-section. While the US rate was at 34 percent in 2009, it still remains lower than China’s sky-high national average of 46.2 percent. The World Health Organization recommends that national percentages for C-sections should be no higher than 15 percent. If a C-section is not required, the surgery could put the mother at serious medical risk.
10: Read the Fine Print on Maternity Coverage
A majority of local Chinese insurance companies do not cover maternity care for students or unmarried females. It is also important to note that many expat insurance policies require 12 months of payment before maternity coverage kicks in – which means a notification is required months in advance, even before conception. Speak with your insurance agent about the details and scrutinize the fine print in your health care coverage.
Sources: Jerry Chan, The New York Times, China Daily, World Health Organization, British Embassy Beijing, US Embassy Beijing, beijingkids 2012-2013 Home & Relocation Guide
This article is excerpted from beijingkids October 2012 issue. View it in PDF form here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out where you can pick up your free copy.
photo by jess.g via Flickr