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Warning by doctors on millennium baby hype

HEALTH OFFICIALS have warned couples not to fall for "media hype" by trying to conceive tonight in an attempt to have the first baby of the new millennium.

Tonight is theoretically the ideal time to conceive if you want to give birth on 1 January. Tabloid newspaper editors and publicists such as Max Clifford are already promising untold millions to the first baby of the new year. But consultants are worried that a surge in births could pose health risks because hospitals will be operating with few staff.

Chemists report a jump in the sales of family planning products such as folic acid andpregnancy tests. Sales of ovulation predictors have increased by 50 per cent.

But family planning experts are warning that the chances of timing a birth exactly were slim. Only 5 per cent of women have babies on the day forecast.

This hasn't stopped a rush to cash in on a likely baby boom. Tonight ITV is screening a two-hour programme featuring a guide to conception, romantic films and a documentary on couples hoping for a 1 January baby. The commercial radio station Classic FM has scheduled a night of "smooth classics".

A spokeswoman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said: "I think that this whole issue is being hyped by the media and commercial companies. Would-be parents want to conceive when it's right for them. I hope that nobody would be so stupid as to plan their family around trying to have a baby on a certain date."

She said even a fertile couple who had sex today at the ideal time in the woman's cycle stood only a one in four chance of conceiving. Twenty per cent of conceptions end spontaneously in miscarriage.

"Women have enough trouble timing their babies to a certain month - let alone an exact date."

She added: "The notion that the nation is going to be bonking [tonight] in order to have a baby on a certain day is absurd. Of course there will be a minority of people who may think they could gain financially out of having a millennium baby - but they obviously have a problem anyway."

A spokesman for the Church of England said yesterday: "We have very real concerns about this. It is the hype that is the problem. If people go ahead with this you are going to get children coming into this world, being born into the limelight of fame from day one, through no choice of their own.

"Will women who sign up to TV companies and sponsors be asked to have a Caesarean to make sure they have their baby on 1 January? How far will this go? These issues have to be addressed."

t In Norway, workers were given a morning off yesterday so they could use the time to produce a millennium baby.

Anton Dahl, the mayor of Kautukain, said: "This is a big joint effort for our town and I expect everyone to do their best."