China is suspending adoptions by foreigners to help stop the spread of SARS.

The government-run China Center for Adoption Affairs says it is suspending travel and other documents that allow foreigners to come here to adopt children from orphanages.

About 5,000 Chinese children are adopted each year by U.S. families, and thousands more find homes in other nations.

Chinese officials are trying to limit travel within the country to stop the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. SARS has killed about 270 people in China, and made thousands more seriously ill.

Karen Friedman, who helps families with the lengthy, complex, and expensive adoption process, said adoptive parents understand the need for stern public health measures. But she said the delay is still painful.

"It's so much stress to coming overseas and coming to China and picking up a baby anyway," explained Ms. Friedman. "This, on the one hand, certainly exacerbates that stress; on the other hand, these folks have been waiting a very long time, and are bound and determined to come in."

Adoption experts say the paperwork problems come on top of a patchwork of restrictions on travel, translators, hotels, and other services - restrictions imposed by provincial officials worried about travelers bringing SARS from Beijing or elsewhere.

Teacher David Beckstead, a foreigner who lives in China, is resigned to waiting a few weeks or months, before he and his wife can adopt a sister for their six-year-old son.

"In the end, basically at the last minute, we got a call saying it wasn't so much that it is not safe down there, as they didn't quite trust us coming from Beijing," he said.

Chinese adoption officials say the adoption restrictions are temporary, and they will accommodate families when the SARS crisis is over.

China's one-child policy and traditional preference for boys mean thousands of girls end up in orphanages each year. Beijing relaxed its adoption laws in the mid 1990's, and a steady stream of children has gone overseas to new families ever since.