China

China education: Why some mothers want August C-sections

Pregnant women in a hospital waiting room in Wuhan Image copyright CNS
Image caption Parents want their children to enter school earlier

Chinese media have noticed a trend of pregnant women rushing to have Caesarean sections before the end of August, so that their yet-to-be-born children will be in the academic year ahead of September-born babies.

The state-owned China News Service (CNS) has released a video featuring a "busy scene" of pregnant women at a hospital in the central city of Wuhan. The video prompted thousands of social media comments about Chinese attitudes towards childbirth.

The government wants to promote natural births in line with its relaxed child policy. It fears that women who have a Caesarean for their first baby could have complications if they go on to have more children.

It is also well documented in China that parents feel pressured to ensure that their child has the competitive edge and are anxious for their children to begin academic learning as soon as possible.

The issue has prompted an online debate about Chinese parents' attitude towards education, with concerns being voiced about the social pressures placed on children to succeed before they are even born.

Image copyright CNS
Image caption Mr Wang said he had experienced problems with his previous September-born child's schooling

Summer-born pupils

By Sean Coughlan, BBC News education correspondent

The evidence from UK research, and highlighted by reports including from MPs, has consistently been that summer-born children do less well in exams.

There have even been calls for summer-born children to be given extra marks to make up for the disadvantage - and some parents have campaigned to hold their summer-born children back so they start school a year later.

The most common explanation is that children born in the summer are less physically and mentally developed than many classmates when they start school in the autumn.

A child born in late August is almost a year younger than a classmate born in early September.

Despite the age difference, they compete in the same exams - and the attainment gap for summer-born children persists right through school, up to the age of 16.

Studies have shown that summer-born children are much more likely to be placed in lower-ability groups.

Starting school earlier also does not seem to mean getting further ahead.

Finland is often mentioned as a world leader in education - but formal education does not start there until the age of seven.

But children soon catch up and overtake countries where pupils have been in school several years earlier.


Undeterred

Major hospitals in Wuhan have seen a rush of expectant mothers in their obstetrics and gynaecology wards, CNS reported on Wednesday.

It said the number of pregnant women visiting local hospitals was 30% higher than would be expected.

One doctor, Song Xiaohui, told CNS "some [mothers] have made appointments on 31 August in case they cannot have a baby before 1 September via vaginal delivery".

CNS said doctors had been advising most of the women to have natural births, saying that premature births might lead to a child having underdeveloped lungs and breathing difficulties in later life.

But that hasn't deterred some parents from trying to seek a C-section.

One parent-to-be, Mr Wang, told CNS he felt his first child had experienced "problems with delayed schooling" as a result of being born in September.

"Because we had already encountered this kind of problem with one child, we thought hard about our second child," he said. "It has more or less affected our way of thinking. Children should be born before September."

Natural birth drive

CNS said that despite the efforts by some parents to have babies by C-section, most women at the Wuhan hospital were "more willing to wait for a natural birth".

Caesareans have long been favoured in China as a more advanced and less painful way of delivering a child but the abolition of the one-child policy in October 2015 has prompted the state to encourage people to have natural births.

The National Family Commission warned in 2016 that women who chose Caesareans for their first birth could have complications with later pregnancies.

Caesarean procedures carry a slightly higher risk than natural births and can cause a ruptured uterus, or a low-lying placenta, both of which risk causing complications for future pregnancies.

Image copyright CNS
Image caption "August is an explosive time," says nurse Song Xiaohui

Modern phenomenon

Although CNS says that choosing to select the timing of a birth has only become a common phenomenon in recent years, Chinese women have long been selective about when they choose to have children, with certain times being regarded as inauspicious.

In 2014, it was widely reported that some women were rushing to have children before 2015 - the year of the sheep. Couples were anxious that if they had sheep babies, they would grow up to be followers, rather than leaders.

But striving to have a child before September is a relatively modern phenomenon, with state-run Xinhua News Agency saying that it leaves parents feeling they have "won time" regarding their child's education.

Image copyright CNS
Image caption CNS says the number of pregnant women visiting hospitals is 30% over normal capacity

'Crazy' trend

Some social media users are extremely critical of women trying to have premature births for the reason of academic achievement.

Thousands of users of the popular Sina Weibo microblog are discussing the phenomenon, with some saying that a woman's body is her own and that she has the right to choose.

But many users say the trend is "crazy" and shows the way in which Chinese parents are putting too much pressure on their children.

"Do people nowadays no longer care about the health of a foetus?" one user asks. "A full-term birth is more conducive to a baby's health."

"This is insane - that society is so eager for quick success," another adds.

"A child is not yet born, but he's already being placed on the starting line," one user says.

"The system is ridiculous, and these women are ridiculous," another adds.

Many social media users say they think China's competitive education system is to blame, and some fear the impact on infant health.

"Premature births can have an impact on a child's intelligence," one user notes.

Another user adds they think the trend is inherently "Chinese". "Our system is not human," they say.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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