Expectant mothers in Germany are doing what they can to put off giving birth until Jan. 1 when a generous government aid programme takes effect.
The media has been filled with tips and warnings from doctors and midwives about holding off birth until Jan. 1.
While experts have warned women to refrain from medical intervention to delay births, they acknowledge the allure of a financial incentive worth up to 25,200 euros ($33,300).
“We’re bracing for a siege on New Year’s Day and will have a full staff on hand,” said Klaus Vetter, chief doctor at Berlin’s Vivantes hospital.
Worried about a shrinking population and a birth rate at a post-war low in 2005, the government in September introduced the law to encourage working couples to have children.
Babies born on or after Jan. 1 qualify for the new benefits.
Parents who take time off from work to care for newborns can receive two-thirds of their net monthly salary, up to a maximum of 1,800 euros, for 12 months. If the other parent takes a further two months off, the benefit is extended to 14 months.
“It should send a clear signal that our society wants to try to compensate for some of the financial loss young parents face,” Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen was quoted saying in the online edition of Der Tagesspiegel on Tuesday.
Christian Albring, president of the German association of gynaecologists, told the Berliner Zeitung all his patients have asked how they could safely extend their pregnancies to January.
“They’ve all asked about possibilities of delaying delivery, but none want to risk their babies’ health,” he said.
Physicians and midwives have been saying that avoiding red wine, stress as well as physical or sexual activity are among the recommended natural methods to help prevent inducing birth.
“Try to lie down a lot and avoid stress,” midwife Stefanie Koehn said is the advice she has been giving. She added they should avoid cinnamon and cloves in Christmas baked goods.
Gynaecologist Folker Adam said delaying births, by methods such as taking magnesium, has been a hotly discussed topic at his office but said none of the mothers wanted to risk the babies’ health.
Sonja Kastner, 34, is expecting her first child on Dec. 31. “I’ve been telling him ‘take your time’,” said Kastner, who added she would have 300 euros more per month if he comes later.
A pregnant doctor named Lucia C. said her due date is Jan. 7 and calculated she will lose 15,000 euros if her baby arrives before Jan. 1. “I’m going to relax as much as possible,” she said, adding she was annoyed at the unnecessary pressure.
Berlin bishop Wolfgang Huber has called on the government to make a Christmas gesture and advance the start date for the new benefits to Dec. 24.
“It would be anti-bureaucratic act in the spirit of Christmas to move the date from Jan. 1 to Dec. 24,” Huber, a leader of the Protestant church, said in the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper.
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.