The upcoming Year of the Sheep, regarded as the most inauspicious for childbirth according to Chinese superstition, is resulting in sluggish business for maternity hospitals and service providers.
Kate Li is expecting her firstborn in February, two days after Spring Festival, meaning that her baby will be born in the Year of the Sheep.
This month, she has found maternity reservations much easier to make.
"The crowds have suddenly gone," said Li, who attended a child delivery rehearsal on Friday afternoon at a privately operated maternity hospital in Beijing.
She was offered a major discount for using baby-delivery services in the Year of the Sheep.
Zhu Zhiling, marketing manager at AmCare Corp, a high-end hospital group providing women and children with medical services, said the number of pregnant customers at the group's hospitals has fallen since June.
The drop became more significant in September and October and more noticeable in traditional regions.
"We used to consider it merely as superstition," Zhu said. "But we never thought that such thinking - mostly from the older generations - would have such an impact on child planning."
Zhu said the situation is expected to improve later in the year because, according to Chinese superstition, babies born in summer and autumn in the Year of the Sheep will have more to eat and therefore better prospects.
Zhu also said there will be a rush among women for cesarean sections at the end of the Year of the Horse to avoid the prospect of giving birth in the Year of the Sheep.
At some public hospitals, the number of expectant mothers has fallen by 50 per cent, according to industry insiders. Every 12 years, some Chinese couples are thrown into a frenzy, fearing their child may be born in the Year of the Sheep.
The superstition regarding childbirth in such years originates in a folk tale that circulated in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) among people opposed to the unpopular Empress Dowager Cixi, who was born in the Year of the Sheep.
Shanghai University sociologist Gu Jun considers the belief that people born in the Year of the Sheep are likely to suffer misfortune is absurd and widely misunderstood.
Liu Nan, chief executive officer of Miyababy.com, a website offering discounts on imported maternity and infant products, said some customers choose to give birth in the Year of the Sheep to avoid crowds when enrolling their children for schools and for employment.