C-section baby boom as parents rush to give birth before Lunar New Year
Mothers-to-be in rush to give birth so children can have a lucky start in life - and be home in time for the Lunar New Year festivities
Doctors in Hong Kong and Singapore are witnessing a "baby boom" as pregnant women rush to give birth by caesarean section ahead of the Lunar New Year.
The trend - as parents try to give their children an auspicious start in life or to avoid being stuck in hospital during the holidays - has prompted insurance companies to double their fees or even halt some maternity policies.
Tradition dictates, according to some fortune tellers, that babies born in the Year of the Horse are more vigorous than those born in the Year of the Goat, which begins on Thursday. Well-known Hong Kong fortune teller Mak Ling-ling said some parents were keen to have their babies early in order for their "luckier" offspring to collect lai see - cash gifts given over Lunar New Year - from their relatives.
The notion of parents-to-be choosing a lucky birth date for their children is not a new one in Hong Kong, and some doctors say the practice is on the rise, in spite of the advice of health professionals.
Private obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Kun Ka-yan said he had 20 per cent more bookings for deliveries this week, and many of them were caesareans. Some obstetricians were carrying out the procedure four times a day, compared to just two bookings a week normally.
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"We have noticed in recent years that Hong Kong has a higher rate of pregnant women giving birth by C-sections, particularly around the Lunar New Year, and the trend is on the rise," said Andrew Apps, director of international medical insurance provider ALC Health.
"Hong Kong is [now] one of the most expensive places in the world to have a child."
Both the city's doctors and fortune tellers agree they have observed the year-end trend increasing. However, Apps warned that babies delivered prematurely were more likely to develop health complications.
In Singapore, the trend for "festive babies" is particularly strong.
That may be fuelled by last summer's government announcement that babies born this year would receive a special "jubilee baby" gift bundle to celebrate the city-state's 50th birthday.
Dr Ann Tan, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital, said the peak season for births began a few weeks ago, with many mothers having planned their pregnancies to coincide with the holiday season.
She added: "I have not seen more Singaporeans having C-sections over natural births, but there are more people choosing the time and date for the delivery for luck."
Apps advised mothers-to-be, especially expatriates, to check their insurance policies to see if they were covered for caesareans. He said insurers reaped a smaller profit when a baby was delivered by caesarean section rather than a natural, spontaneous birth, with hospital fees being about 25 per cent more.
"There are around 20 to 22 companies in the business, nearly all of us … are looking closely at the maternity [policies]," he said.
"Some have increased the waiting period to 24 months before benefits are provided."
Apps added: "We have also noticed that some medical professionals are performing C-sections more for fashion rather than for medical needs."
At the private Union Hospital, in Tai Wai, Sha Tin, maternity packages for a natural birth with a standard room costs HK$19,200, while a caesarean section costs HK$24,000.
Apps said the cost was almost double that found in many European countries.
Another insurer, DKV Globality, announced it had stopped two childbirth-related policies in Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau back in 2013, and it had increased its premiums for existing customers in these places by 85 to 100 per cent.
In other regions, the policies were not affected.