Epidurals rare and C-sections common in Chinese births – China’s latest society and culture news


“Social problems in China won’t be reported or addressed until someone dies. How ironic it is!”

“The reality is many Chinese have never heard of pain-free childbirth. When you see those female celebrities appear in public shortly after giving birth as if nothing has happened, you know what is the difference between ordinary Chinese and those from the upper class.”

These are two representative comments (in Chinese) from Chinese social media in reaction to recent media coverage on childbirth in China, triggered by the tragic story of a young pregnant woman surnamed Ma, who jumped to her death after her husband and his family allegedly denied her a C-section.

In the debate raging over who’s to blame, thepaper.cn talked (in Chinese) to Duan Tao 段涛, former director of Shanghai First Maternity and Infant Health Hospital. Duan suggested that while epidurals have been available in China for about 20 years, they remain rare. Meanwhile 46.5 percent of births are by cesarean — the highest rate in the world, far above the World Health Organization’s suggested limit of 15 percent.

Duan attributed the low rates of epidurals to policy factors, and to the country’s lack of anesthesiologists. “An epidural doesn’t cost much. If a pregnant woman chooses to have an epidural and a C-section, the whole delivery process can be finished within half an hour,” Duan said. “But for pain-free natural birth, doctors and anesthesiologists should stand by for a couple of hours and the only thing they can charge for is the epidural. Given the labor cost, many hospitals are reluctant to offer pain-free delivery service to women giving natural birth.”

Meanwhile, Ma’s death continues to dominate the Chinese internet, as more revelations have surfaced and police investigations got underway. On Wednesday, the hospital where Ma was giving birth released another statement (in Chinese) that included a hospital record indicating that the husband’s family refused to give Ma a cesarean surgery despite the doctor’s recommendation, repeated three times, and some screenshots from hospital surveillance footage showing Ma walking out of the maternity ward and kneeling before her husband’s family. Hoping to refute Chinese internet users claims that the husband’s family denied Ma C-section to save money, Ma’s husband said (in Chinese) the accusation was groundless, noting that his family belongs to the middle class in his village, and owns a six-cave dwelling and a car.


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Jiayun Feng

Jiayun is a Chinese native and was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allows her to pursue a journalistic career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.