LONDON -- The millennium baby boom has gone bust.
From Hong Kong to London, couples appear to have heeded the warning from doctors -- don't plan a turn-of-the-century baby in overcrowded hospitals battling the Y2K bug.From Tokyo to Budapest, the message seems to have gotten through -- it is OK to be fruitful and multiply but don't make a special effort to do it as the clock ticks down to the new millennium.
A Reuters survey around the world revealed just two major exceptions. In Sydney and Beijing the temptation to aim for that magic target has proved too great -- although the Chinese are motivated more by the Chinese New Year calendar.
April 9 was signaled as the perfect day to conceive a millennium baby. British radio stations played romantic classics. A New Zealand hotel hosted a "Night of Love" for 100 couples hoping to hit the millennium jackpot.
But doctors warned that the timing of any birth was an inexact science. Getting the date right was a tough assignment.
British Airways has reported that hundreds of its stewardesses are expecting to have babies at the turn of the century -- but they are the exception to the rule.
"Nationwide, the expected baby boom has not materialized," a British Health Ministry spokesman said.
And that was after all the media hype, with big-name publicist Max Clifford estimating that the first British baby of the millennium could become a sponsorship-laden instant millionaire.
In Japan, doctors report that it will be babies as usual on New Year's Eve, with no millennium surge in births expected.
"I have no particular sense of an increase this year," said Shizuko Kikuchi at the Sapporo Maternity Hospital. I haven't heard of anybody deliberately planning to have a baby then."
New York doctors are not expecting many more deliveries than usual, but some have been asked whether there are any "prizes" for giving birth in the early minutes of Jan. 1.
"I had one patient at least who asked me whether I could do a caesarean section that night, and I said this is not an acceptable practice," said Dr. Amos Grunebaum at St. Lukes-Roosevelt hospital in Manhattan.
Other motives stir American parents.
In Washington, Dr. John Larsen at George Washington University said: "There is normally in the U.S. a flurry of people trying to get their labors induced so that they get their tax deduction before the end of the calendar year. That sweeps in a lot of people who are biologically due in at around that time."
Hungary seems to have missed the opportunity to turn round a decades-long trend of declining newborns.
"We do not plan to have an increased level of duty because the data of registered pregnancies do not suggest a higher number of children by the end of the year," said Budapest maternity specialist Gyorgy Garamvolgyi.
The tale is the same in New Zealand. Registrations of births at the turn of the year are down about 20 percent.
But love and procreation are blossoming in Sydney, the first major world city to see in the New Year. It reports no shortage of millennium baby candidates, with the daily average expected to double.
"It would be quite spectacular to have the first baby born in Australia and the world. It is quite a Guinness Book of Records achievement," said Phyllis Sakinofsky of the Royal Hospital for Women.
In China, the combination of the millennium and the traditionally auspicious year of the dragon was expected to send pregnancies soaring in the year 2000 despite Beijing's strict one-child policy.
Most prospective mothers are keen to wait until Chinese New Year in February to ensure that auspicious birth but state media have also cited the millennium as a popular target. The Beijing Youth daily reported that one woman even had an abortion to time her pregnancy better.
But they appear to be exceptions to the global rule and it may now be the popping of champagne corks on millennium party night that sparks most passion.
A survey commissioned by the condom-maker Durex showed that almost half of the world's young people hope the fireworks of the millennium celebrations will end with sex. A majority said they would remember to use a condom