The Beijing health authority called on its top-level hospitals to reserve more beds for pregnant women with high-risk cases as more women in their late 30s plan to give birth after the capital adopted the second-child policy earlier this year.
Xi Shuyan, an official from the city's health and family planning commission in charge of maternal and child health management, said last week that the commission issued a circular recently, advising capable hospitals to reserve more beds for pregnant women with critical health conditions. Healthy pregnant women will need to go to other medical institutions, she said.
Experts believe the city will see a baby boom in the near future after the local government began allowing parents to have a second child if either parent is an only child.
An additional 270,000 babies will be born in the city in the next five years due to the new policy, the commission estimated in February.
City hospitals, whose obstetric wards are already overcrowded, are bracing for the challenge.
"The number of outpatients in our obstetrics department has been increasing by 20 per cent annually in recent years, hitting more than 80,000 people last year. This year the number is going to be even greater," said Zhang Fuchun, assistant president of Peking University Third Hospital.
The city's health and family planning commission recommended that all pregnant women go to local healthcare providers to establish a personal profile before they register in a hospital for maternal checks and childbirth.
Xi said the city is going to establish a system to monitor how many pregnant women the hospitals are receiving and will pass on such information to local healthcare providers. These providers can then direct the pregnant women to hospitals that have vacant beds.
"We hope by sharing such information, pregnant women won't have to rush from hospital to hospital in order to get admitted," she said.
Local healthcare providers will also conduct preliminary screenings for pregnant women, and, based on the result of the screenings, advise them in choosing a hospital.
"If the screening shows that a woman faces very high risks during pregnancy or is not suitable to give birth, she will be transferred to a hospital designated to treat high-risk pregnancies or other top level hospitals," said Xi.
"Otherwise, grassroots medical workers will advise her to avoid top level hospitals, which are already overcrowded."
C-section, middle age play into 2nd child decision
Chongqing resident Su Shu, 35, went for a pre-pregnancy test in March when local media reported that the city was about to allow some couples to have a second child.
Her test results were fine except for a low blood sugar reading. But Su, the mother of an 8-year-old, is wavering over having another child.
"The doctor told me that women at my age should go for tests every two weeks after being pregnant for three months and should undergo an amniotic fluid test because the risk of a fetal anomaly is higher than for younger women," Su said.
"But I would like to have a second child as my son is too lonely."
Su, an only child herself, is one of the Chinese women who are finding it hard to decide if they want to make use of the new second-child policy being implemented by some provinces. Couples may have a second child if one partner is an only child.
For people like Su, the policy may have arrived a little late.
"Had it come out two years ago, I would have given birth to another child without any hesitation," she said.
Age is what bothers most women who come to the Women's Hospital of Zhejiang University's School of Medicine seeking advice, according to Shangguan Xuejun, a doctor there.
The hospital set up a clinic on Nov 27 last year to provide medical advice to women who want to have another child, soon after the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China decided to loosen up the family planning policy.
Most of the women who come to the clinic are 35 years old and above, Shangguan said.
"The risks of endocrine disorder, ovulation failure and pregnancy complications, such as diabetes, are higher at this age," he said.
Also, about 80 per cent of those seeking advice had undergone a cesarean section, though not all of them actually needed one, Shangguan said.
"The risks of uterine rupture for women who got pregnant again after a C-section, though not very high, is very dangerous to both the mother and the baby," he said. "It's best for women who want to have a second child to go through their first childbirth on their own."
"If fertilized eggs lodge on the scar of the uterus caused by a C-section, one must undergo an abortion and try to get pregnant again," said Zhai Guirong, a retired obstetrician from the Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital.
But others seem to be better prepared for the policy.
Yu Hui, 29, of Beijing, is pregnant with her second child. The mother of a 2-year-old, she is a single child herself and eligible to have a second child under Beijing's policy.
"I insisted on a natural birth for the first child, and the doctors believed that I could do this after an assessment," she said.
"I have been wanting to have a second child. The second-child policy had been discussed for quite some years before it took effect. I knew it would come, and that our generation would benefit from it."