Beijing: China is preparing for 2 million extra babies a year as a result of a loosening of its "one child" birth limits that will allow more couples to have two children, health officials said Thursday.
The ruling Communist Party introduced birth limits in 1980 to curb population growth and demand for water and other resources. Most urban couples are allowed one child and face fines and other penalties for additional births.
Pressure to enforce limits has led local officials to force women to abort fetuses or to be sterilised, even though such measures are illegal.
The party announced in November that couples in which one parent was an only child would be allowed to have a second baby in some areas. Previously, both parents had to be an only child to qualify for this exemption.
China already faces a shortage of maternity beds, said Wang Guoqing, a deputy minister of the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
Local authorities have been told to build more health facilities for women and children and add maternity beds, said Zhang Shikun, an official with the commission in charge of women and children's health.
China had 18.5 million births in 2013, according to the UN children's agency UNICEF. The forecast increase would be the equivalent of about 11 percent of that.
The figure of 2 million additional births is at the top end of forecasts by experts based on the less restrictive policy. Some say the figure might be lower due to the growing acceptance in China of smaller families.
The looser policy has taken effect in the cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing, and the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Anhui, Sichuan, Guangdong and Jiangsu.
On Thursday, the government of the northwestern region of Ningxia announced a similar change.