Many mothers who abide by the Chinese zodiac superstitions on childbirth are not keen to have their children born during the Year of the Sheep. Associations of meekness and a hard life for those born in that year have led mothers to try to time their births before the turn of the Chinese New Year which ushers in the new zodiac sign, leading to a spike childbirths in recent months, straining medical resources in China and parts of Asia. Childbirth is also expected to dip after February.

Meika Chin, a midwife at Shanghai United Family Hospital, estimated births in the coming year would be 20 percent below the average, with many couples saying "they're going to skip the Year of Sheep and have the baby the year after," according to the Associated Press. People born in the year of the sheep are thought to be filial, kind-hearted and hardworking, but are also thought to be timid, obstinate and indecisive. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are among some of the well-known personalities born under that sign. A popular Chinese saying “Out of 10 sheep, nine will suffer” (十羊九不全) has traditionally led mothers to avoid giving birth during that zodiac sign, as sheep or goats are livestock raised for slaughter. 

Other areas with a significant Chinese population have also reported a spike in childbirth leading up to the turn of the Chinese New Year, which was on Thursday. Hong Kong hospitals have seen an increase in requests for caesarean section procedures just so that babies could be born in the year of the horse. Those born under that sign as seen as being more “vigorous.”

Hospitals in Liaoning, Shandong and Gansu provinces of China have been experiencing sharp increases in births, and in the Guizhou province, several hospitals had to stop issuing birth certificates altogether in January, according to the New York Times.

The Chinese zodiac is represented by 12 animal signs for each year, including the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. People born under each sign are thought to have certain personality characteristics, and certain animal signs are more compatible with each other. For example, those though to be born in the year of the sheep are thought to be compatible with those in the year of the horse, as the hardworking nature associated with both animals could lead to a harmonious relationship. Conversely, those born in the year of the sheep are usually warned against unions with those born in the year of the tiger, as the predatory nature of that animal could be seen as disadvantageous for sheep babies.

There are some mothers who do not mind giving birth in a less crowded year. "Lots of people think sheep babies' lives will be very tiring and they have to work hard, so lots of people try to avoid having sheep babies," said an expectant mother who was due in late February, who would only give her surname, Li, according to the AP. "But that means my baby won't have as much competition, which is great."