Customs and traditions regarding pregnancy and childbirth in China (updated 2023)
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 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 slightly 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.
Choosing a suitable baby name
Choosing a name for your baby in China is a nuanced undertaking. Some parents seek guidance from a fortune teller, while others rely on ancestral baby name books. Often, names are selected based on the qualities parents wish their child to possess.
Regardless of the approach, a name comprises two essential components: a family name which is the first part of the name, and a personal name comprising one or more characters. Where a personal name comprises two characters or more, often there is one word (the generational character) that is common among all members of the same generation and gender from the same family.
The 30th day of a baby’s life is a momentous occasion, especially for Buddhist and Taoist families steeped in rich traditions. To safeguard the newborn’s well-being, prayers and offerings are presented to the divine, while the parents distribute gifts among their near and dear ones as a gesture of gratitude. Delightful delicacies like red-dyed eggs, denoting happiness and prosperity, are among the offerings. Friends and family members shower blessings and gifts on the little one, and the festivities conclude with a grand banquet shared by all.
After the initial three months of life, a joyous festivity is held to celebrate the babies’ survival, and the parents are showered with red packets of cash and baby items needed. This long-standing practice has its roots in the belief that surpassing the three-month age mark is an auspicious sign indicating good fortune and well-being for the newborn.
During the baby’s first birthday celebrations, a cute little grabbing test is often performed. Several items are arranged in front of the little one, and the object they hold onto is thought to foretell their future interests, in academia or their future career.
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!
Disclaimer: Pacific Prime solely represents, operates and manages locally regulated insurance products and services in the territory of PR China. Any references to Pacific Prime Global Company or Group, the international services, insurance products or otherwise stated written or verbally, is for introduction purposes about our overseas network only as each entity is fully independent.