There are no official records concerning the number of foreign children born in China, although it is clear that most women still prefer to give birth in their own country. For example, Shanghai Huadong Hospital Foreigners Clinic says that although 70 percent of its patients are foreigners, it performs very few deliveries.
Those who fly home enjoy familiarity and peace of mind but they generally have to spend a prolonged period apart from their spouse working in. China. Airlines generally don't allow travel during the last six weeks of pregnancy.
Dr. Michael Moreton is an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Beijing United Family Hospital (BJU). He says that those opting for a delivery in China tend to be strong-minded women with professional experience in China. Very often they also have a good grasp of the Chinese language.
However, China still has its limitations in terms of expertise and facilities. In cases of emergency, expectant mothers are evacuated to Hong Kong, where the standard of care is world-class. Indeed SAR women are the least likely in the world to die during child-birth, according to a World Health Organisation study. However, this is partly due to the low average birth rate in Hong Kong – risks increase with each additional pregnancy.
The quality of Chinese hospitals is highly variable. In the field of childcare they tend to be poorly equipped for premature births and have a tendency to insist on performing Caesarean sections. The only sensible option is to sign up with one of the growing number of Sino-foreign hospitals.
BJU was created to address the expatriate community's dissatisfaction with Chinese medical facilities. It opened in 1997 with a family practice department staffed with family doctors, medical consultants and paediatricians. So far, it has carried out 62 deliveries, of which 10 have been Caesarean sections. The pre-natal section contains three beds and a paediatrician on 24-hour call. There are two operating rooms for Caesarean deliveries. Epidural anaesthesia is available and performed by an anaesthetist who is pre-sent in the unit when a woman is in labour.
The maternity unit has seven childbirth suites, in which women can give birth and recover in comfort. All suites have an en-suite bathroom and a sofa bed for the father to stay overnight if he wishes. Dr Moreton says the delivery is a "physical and emotion-al process, and that is why it is important to have facilities allowing families to stay together." One Taiwanese couple said they particularly appreciated the fact the family could stay together during the delivery process and the three days in hospital.
Setting up a Western-style hospital in China is not cheap and this is reflected in patient charges. Even so, it can still work out cheaper than in the West. Dr. Moreton estimates that BJU's obstetrics package comes out at 60-75 percent of standard American prices.
Competition will soon come from the Sino-Canadian joint venture International Hospital in Beijing, due to open in May 1999. It will offer a delivery package of around US$4,500 which involves a stay of two-to-three days.
Beijing Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital doesn't offer package prices for delivery. A Yn10,000 deposit covers basic delivery costs. Some Western women who had deliveries there commented on the poor state of the showers in private bathrooms, but said that the surgery facilities were clean and modern.
Maternity costs at Capital Hospital in Beijing are Yn10,000 for a standard delivery, involving a stay in the hospital of three days. This too has a mixed reputation among expatriates, with some complaining about the level of cleanliness. However rooms in the maternity area are held in higher opinion than in the Sino-Japanese and the medical staff are regarded as competent.
Shanghai is less well-served in terms of international-quality hospitals. Those with delivery services include the Ruijin Hospital and the Shanghai Huadong Hospital.