Six Things to Know About Prenatal Hospital Visits In China

For reasons that are no longer clear to me, with both pregnancies I didn’t go to the hospital until I was three to four months along in the pregnancy. Maybe this was because we were nervous about another miscarriage and didn’t tell anyone right away, unlike the first time. Or perhaps it was just to avoid all the chaos that is going to the maternity department at a hospital.


One of the biggest surprises I had was when we were walking outside one night, pregnant with our son, and I commented on how nice it was that our house was just a five minute walk, if even that, to the hospital. It’s where my husband works and I assumed that it’s where I’d give birth.


Oh, no, he informed me. They no longer have a maternity department since it’s a smaller community hospital  and the larger General Hospital wants to be in control of things. At that point (2008) there were just two hospitals at which babies were delivered. Our son was born at the GH and our daughter at the other one in 2012. A year later, that department was shut down and all the doctors and nurses reassigned positions or transfered to the GH.


That said, there are some private hospitals on the other side of town, but they aren’t regulated in the same way and are much more expensive. I imagine this situation doesn’t happen in larger metro areas, but if you’re in a smaller town, make sure you know where you can go to get prenatal care and have the baby.


Now, once you find a hospital, here are some things you need to know:


Go early. Hospitals tend to open at 8 am but people’s start queuing as early as 7 am to ensure that they are seen before the staff goes home for their two hour lunch break (at least that’s the norm in smaller towns like mine). Here there are no appointments, though there are some things are only done on certain days of the week. For example, the blood glucose testing is only done on Tuesday’s, at the hospital where my son was born.


Take your medical record book to every visit. Pen and paper still rules when it comes to medical care in Chinese hospitals. They only use the computers for citizens who have medical insurance cards, which need scanned to deduct the money. On your first visit you’re given a booklet that they fill out with your name, age and all those other stats that are important. This book includes space for all the details of your future visits as well.


You’ll see lots of doctors, all female. There’s no such thing as a primary care physician and the same holds true for prenatal care. Expect to see lots of doctors on each visit, but you can feel relaxed knowing that they’re all female. Men aren’t allowed to work in this department, and male nurses in China are about as rare as foreigners in my city. I know they’re here, but I never see them!


Exam rooms are also female only. Unlike Western clinics, where appointments are done in the privacy of an exam room with one patient and one doctor, and the dad is welcome, in the Chinese hospitals I had my kids at, there was one large room with several desks and tables. It finally clicked why so many women were accompanied by their mothers in law; even if the husband didn’t have to work at that time, he could only sit in the hall and smoke. (Yes, smoking is allowed I the shot pails, though it’s starting to be banned in top tier cities).


Take plenty of cash. The Chinese health insurance system provides a prepaid card to I discuss, though foreigners are not allowed to be part of this system. One resound its good to have a person accompany you to your visit is that they can go to pay the bill while you wait in line. I have records from one visit with my daughter where I needed both a bloody test and ultrasound.


In both cases, I went to queue up while hubby paid the bill and then returned with the recipes which we had to give to the doctor before they’d serve us. Fortunately, routine services are cheap. The ultrasound was around 100 RMB. Blood tests are similarly priced.


Return in the afternoon for results. While you can get your test results back on the same day, you have to return to the hospital after a set time, usually 3-4 pm to get them.


Disclaimer: I’ve only been to public hospitals and this has been my experience. I know lots of ex pats who’ve given birth in international hospitals in China and private Chinese hospitals where they had different experiences.


Have you had a baby in China? Share your experience–no matter what type of hospital–in the comments!


Other posts in the Having A Baby In China Series:
the American Embassy regulations
prenatal vitamins and radiation smocks
•prenatal hospital visits
•birthing classes
•breast feeding
•shopping for baby
•the Chinese zuo

Having A Baby In China: Prenatal Vitamins and Radiation Smocks

pregnancy in China
A two-part smock that pregnant women in China wear to keep the baby safe.
Prenatal Vitamins and Supplements in China
With my son I didn’t take any supplements or extra vitamins besides the regular woman’s daily and extra vitamin C that I always took. I ate a very healthy diet of mostly vegetables and some meat (we were paying off my student loans that year, so money was tight) and I walked everywhere and exercised daily. Apparently we didn’t feel that I needed anything else.


Fast forward to finding out we were expecting our second child, and my husband bought me some prenatal vitamins. They were a pink chew-able that I took daily for the rest of the pregnancy. By this time I was more familiar with the pharmacy and bought calcium supplements as well, since I don’t like milk and only drink it when mixed with iced coffee and cocoa powder. 🙂
But since there are lots of questions about the safety of medicines and supplements in China, and since they don’t weigh all that much, I’d suggest bringing them along or buying some online and having them shipped here.


Radiation Proof Smocks (Fang Fu Yi Fu)
These are massively popular as Chinese are very concerned about radiation. When I was pregnancy with our first, my husband told me to stay out of the kitchen when I used the microwave. Because of this inconvenience, and because Chinese food does not reheat well at all, I slowly stopped using it and by the time we moved two years later, I no longer used it at all.


He also asked me to go to the shopping center to buy a smock that protects against radiation which is made of special material that makes it more difficult for the radiation to affect the growing baby. I went, unsure of what I’d find, and even though there were ones that would fit my size-14 body, the price tag didn’t fit our budget. They ran about 500 yuan, so I decided that I’d just keep the internet off unless I was using the computer. I’m not sure how much of this is hype, since most parents only get one shot at having a kid, they want it to be the best, brightest and healthiest, but some Western websites say that the amount of radiation that a person is exposed to on a daily basis is minimal and Fit Pregnancy says that you should keep your cell phone a safe distance away from you since does pose the most risk.


By the time I had my daughter, I was freelancing and using the computer several hours a day. Online shopping had also developed to where people trusted sellers and weren’t afraid to use sites like Taobao.
One day he came home with a package for me: a navy blue smock, the same as the one pictured above except navy, complete with an inner piece, to wear whenever I was at home. You wear them together, with the silver one inside.


Most Chinese women wear them all the time, but I had something against wearing it out in public–not to mention that it was so hot–so I agreed to wear both pieces at home, and the inner layer even at night. You can’t wash them, so I made sure to always wear an apron when cooking and cleaning.


Afterwards, my husband sold it on a local Craigslist-like site for something like 50 yuan.
Other posts in the Having A Baby In China series:
the American Embassy regulations
•prenatal vitamins and radiation smocks
•prenatal hospital visits
•birthing classes
•breast feeding
•shopping for baby
•the Chinese moon month (zuo yue zi)

Update on Vitacost Orders to China

I’ve placed, and received, three orders with Vitacost and thought I’d give an update on my experiences so far.

In my previous post, I told how there was some glitch in the package leaving Hong Kong but otherwise it arrived without a problem, and within the given time frame.


With my second Vitacost order I bought a bag of beef gelatin to make a healthy gummy candy for the kids. It never clicked in my mind that since it’s derived from animals, customs doesn’t allow it. And they caught it. The box arrived with the item highlighted and a sentence saying that it’s not allowed to be shipped in the country. I spent a good two days upset with myself for making such a stupid mistake, which cost be almost $20 when you factor in the shipping cost.  That was in mid June. Imagine my surprise when about a week ago I got an email saying that my return was received and that my credit card was credited for the product! Sure enough there’s a credit back on my credit card for that amount. What an unexpected blessing. I’m still out the shipping cost and tax but I’ll chalk that up to “stupid tax.”


Now I’m very careful with my orders, double checking to ensure that I’m not accidentally violating customs rules.


My third order went through just fine, though I wasn’t allowed to add the two free samples, like I was in the past. I was able to add them but it said that they couldn’t be shipped to China. Once I removed them from my cart, the order was processed. Honestly I’m a little bummed because I love free samples of things like granola bars, toothpaste and deodorant (super hard to find outside of the big cities in China).


Vitacost Has Some Great Sales
My last order included 8 bottles of ALA (which my husband takes daily) since there was a buy one, get one 50% off sale. This week I got an email about a buy one get one free sale. Bummer…and it’s on the same sort of products, all Vitacost brand items, it seems. Next time I’ll wait for that; were pretty well stocked on all the supplements we take but in a few months I’ll jump on this discount when it rolls around again. I’m sure it will; retailers typically follow a sales cycle.


Shipping and Customs Fees
Since my first order, the packages have arrived much sooner. I’m pretty sure that was just a fluke, though it seems that it does take two to four days for the package to be picked up by the shipper. I’m not exactly sure how the process works, but once it gets picked up by Shun Feng I can track it via a link in my order confirmation.


With all three orders, each totaling over $100, the customs fee was 60 yuan. The first one was just over $100 and the second one was close to the order limit (imposed by Shun Feng) of $160. So I’m guessing that it’s a flat fee no matter the order total, which means you get more bang for your buck (or yuan) when you place a larger order.
Other Discounts
I also always start my order though (join to get a credit) which gives 4% back on Vitacost orders. Not much, to be sure, but it helps take the sting out of the shipping costs. Twice I’ve encountered problems with not being credited properly, but upon filling out the online customer service form, I was credited the amount within a few days. Ebates only pays out quarterly, so the delay in that wasn’t a problem.


I also check to get the link to the free samples and see if there are any discount codes. Often if I place a few items in my cart, but don’t check out, I get an email saying they’ll give me 10% off my order. But I’ve had a coupon code for 12% off and seen another for 15% off, as well.


Overall I’m a very happy customer and so excited that I can get these things shipped to China at rather affordable prices.


(Links are affiliate links, which means I get a small credit if you place an order, but your price isn’t affected at all. Thanks for helping keep the lights on here!)