Wearing radiation-proof maternity clothes to get a seat on the subway

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song (www.ruthsilbermayrsong.com)

One weekend after I find out that I’m pregnant, I go to buy some comfy clothes with a Chinese friend. When we are done with shopping and eat lunch, she says:

“You should buy radiation-proof clothes. These are specially made for pregnant women and if you wear such a dress, people will offer you their seat on the subway.”

It will still take a few months until strangers will be able to see that I’m pregnant, so later that week, I look up radiation-proof clothes on China’s popular online shopping platform, Taobao. Taking the subway in China at rush hour can be a very uncomfortable experience, even more so if you have to deal with early pregnancy symptoms such as exhaustion, general weakness and nausea, which, although called morning sickness, can last the whole day. For me, the nausea is often at its worst on the way back home from work – it might be because I’m exhausted or because I feel stressed by the sheer mass of people or maybe because there are just so many different smells.

When I look up the clothes my friend talked about on Taobao, I find that almost all of them come in shades of pink. The dresses look like they are made for little girls and I cringe at the thought of having to wear a dress that will make me look cute in a sense I really don’t like. I scan through pages of radiation-proof maternity clothes and at last find a dress that is pretty simple and comes in a gray shade. I’m not giving up on getting a seat on an overcrowded subway yet.

After receiving the dress, I wear it on different occasions to find out if anyone will offer me their seat on the subway. And I pay more attention to other women who wear such clothes. Some don’t have a belly yet, but are still offered a seat. And some don’t even wear pink to be offered a seat. So my chances shouldn’t be that bad, right? Unfortunately, my tactics don’t seem to work. Maybe my dress is just too simple. Or maybe I would have to wear a long-sleeved shirt underneath the dress, just like other pregnant women do. I usually wear a jacket, because it’s too cold not to (I wrote this article a few months back in December). But even if I do take it off, nobody offers me their seat. It’s either the fact that somehow I don’t wear this dress correctly, or the fact that people just don’t associate a foreigner wearing this kind of dress with pregnancy. It seems like I need to wait a few more months until my belly shows to be offered a seat. Meanwhile, I’ve asked my husband to make sure I don’t have to pay for the cleaning of the subway if I do indeed throw up one day (he says I won’t have to).

Maybe it’s time to look up fake baby bellies online?

P.S.: Only shortly after I wrote this article, a guy offered me his seat one morning in my 11th week of pregnancy. There’s still hope that I don’t need to buy the fake belly after all!

Have you ever been desperate to get a seat on the subway? I’d love to read your stories.

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13 thoughts on “Wearing radiation-proof maternity clothes to get a seat on the subway

  1. Oh, R, it must have been horrible with the nausea on the way home from work on that subway (and hoping you don’t throw up)!

    BTW, I think it’s fascinating how China has an entire line of “radiation-proof” clothes! And, for that matter, how cute they are! I’m almost curious to see a photo of you wearing your dress. 😉


    • The dress wasn’t very comfortable and I haven’t been wearing it lately since my bump is already showing (and I’ve read articles that said these clothes might actually increase radiation). But wearing it and seeing if people would react was definitely interesting.


    • They use a special kind of silver thread (I couldn’t find a website explaining it in English), but like I mentioned in the comment above, it’s controversial and might even increase radiation.

      I’m already 7 months pregnant and get offered a seat most of the time now, which – although not feeling nauseaous anymore – is a big relief.


  2. A few months ago there were some news about a woman who used a fake pregnant belly to get a seat on the subway in Beijing. But the belly fell to the floor once and the rest of the passengers found out her trick!


  3. Maybe you should just ask for it, when my sister in law was super pregnant and spent the summer with us, no one gave her a seat. Her belly was huge and she looked at people, she was wearing that pink dress but nothing. So I just touched the shoulder of a young guy who was in the corner and asked him to please let the pregnant lady sit down.
    It wasn’t the last time we asked for it, since she stayed the whole summer we just did it for her.
    After all, is priority.


  4. I’m glad you feel little bit better now, although I hope people will give you seat in any occasion now and when the baby is there. It would be awkward to squeeze the baby in crowd 😉
    btw. again you disappear from my reader, sometimes you don’t even show at all in any tag I follow


  5. Nicki took the exact words out of my mouth…’Why do they call it radiation-proof?’

    I can’t imagine feeling sick on a subway during rush hour while standing. However, I was wondering if there are seats reserved on the subway for elderly people and pregnant women. I know they have them on the buses and subways in Taiwan and most people will abide by it!!

    And I have to ask…do you know if it is a boy or a girl yet?


    • There are no seats just dedicated to people in need on the subway in SZ – every seat should be given to people who are more in need than you are (imagine a crowded subway and having to find your way to a seat reserved for people in need, that wouldn’t work very well). The speaker on the subway tells people to give up their seat for people in need and I think it’s also written on the windows or somewhere in the subway.

      The sex of our baby is still a secret.


  6. As many others before me: Radiation-proof maternity clothes 😮
    Never ever heard of that but then again it might be a more Chinese thing?
    Seems that my wife was lucky during her pregnancy as she did not had any kind of nausea.
    Besides, coming back to the topic of seats in the subway, they really should add such seats specially dedicated for eldery and pregnant women. I mean, I have seen this in every country I have visited in buses, trains and subways but never in China. But when I think about it, I have actually never seen a pregnant woman in China (that the tummy is showing) :p


    • Radiation-proof maternity clothes are definitely a Chinese thing.

      Have you ever been to Shenzhen? I call it preggers’ city, there are pregnant women everywhere you go.

      Like I wrote in a comment above, every seat on the subway in Shenzhen should be given up for somebody in need – there aren’t just a few single seats dedicated to people in need but in theory, every single seat. Imo, that’s much more effective in an overcrowded subway than having to fight your way through a crowd to the three single seats that are supposed to be given up for someone in need. In Chinese subways at rush hour, you often don’t get through to any seat at all, so if you can make it to any one seat, that one should be given up for you if you’re more in need of it than the person sitting.


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