Why Baby Booms Happen During Storms and What To Do If You Can’t Get To The Hospital.
As families on the East Coast prepare for winter storm Juno, they’ll stock up on food, batteries and basic provisions for surviving a few days of being snowed in. But what about women who are near their due dates? What are the odds they’ll go into labor during this blizzard or any other extreme weather event? How should they prepare?
It’s difficult to find hard data that proves what every labor and delivery nurse, midwife and obstetrician knows is true — when hard weather hits, get ready for a baby boom. We know there’s a powerful connection between low barometric pressure, extreme weather and women going into spontaneous labor.
Barometric pressure is also known as atmospheric pressure and refers to the weight of particles in the air above the Earth. Days with high barometric pressure tend to be sunny, whereas low barometric pressure occurs during stormy weather. Since barometric pressure impacts the tides, and humans are largely made up of water, it makes sense that changes in barometric pressure that occur during extreme weather could also affect our watery human bodies. This may be especially true during pregnancy when the uterus is stretched and filled with amniotic fluid. Essentially, the amniotic sac is a water balloon and when pressure on that balloon lowers there’s an increased chance it will pop — AKA Spontaneous Rupture Of Membranes.
While stories from healthcare providers and mothers of “storm babies” are plenty (Christy’s son was born during a huge snow storm), very few scientific studies have been done to validate this phenomenon. One study took a retrospective look at winter deliveries and noted a mild correlation between episodes of low barometric pressure and increased cases of ruptured membranes, labor and birth. Other studies are less conclusive.
Desiree Bley, MD, an obstetrician in Portland Oregon says, “There may not be a lot of hard science to back this up and as doctors, we wish we knew exactly why it happens, but there’s definitely a phenomenon that clusters births together during extreme conditions. Maybe it’s nature’s way of gathering mothers together to deliver around the same time as a way of protecting the species, or to make sure there are plenty of mothers available for cross nursing. While hospitals will do all they can to make sure they’re staffed, stocked and ready to deliver however many mothers come our way, mothers have to be prepared too.”
Bley recommends families make plans for how they’ll get to the hospital if the weather impacts transportation:
- Move your car to a sheltered location before the storm hits
- Keep a shovel and kitty litter ready to dig tires out and provide traction
- Head to the hospital earlier than you might otherwise to make sure you get there safely
- Prepare yourself and your car for the off chance you’ll deliver en route (think water proofing for car seats, blankets and emergency supplies — see below for more DIY birth information)
- Ask friends and family members who have 4-wheel drive vehicles to be ready in case of an emergency
- Call an ambulance if driving conditions are too dangerous or public transportation is not feasible
But what if you’re so snowed in you can’t get to the hospital in time? Jeanne Faulkner, EMC’s writer and on-staff labor and delivery nurse offers these tips for DIY deliveries:
- Call 911 and make sure help is on the way.
- Don’t push before help arrives unless there’s such a strong urge you can’t avoid it.
- Get into a comfortable side-lying, hands and knees or kneeling position on your bed or floor.
- Place a waterproof barrier (garbage bag, puppy pad) and plenty of clean towels under your bottom to absorb fluid and create a soft nest for your baby.
- If your partner or someone else is there to help you, have them support your pereneum to prevent tearing as you gently push baby out. Place a towel on the perineum and apply very gentle support as baby’s head emerges.
- As soon as the head is delivered, slide your finger under baby’s chin and check that the umbilical cord is not wrapped around baby’s neck. If it is, stop pushing and gently slide the cord over baby’s head without tugging or pulling. If the cord is coming out before baby’s head delivers, use your fingers to make sure the cord is not compressed by baby’s head during delivery.
- Baby will be very slippery so use an extra towel or blanket to help catch and guide baby from the vagina to Mom’s chest or abdomen.
- Dry baby immediately to prevent him from getting cold. Remove wet towels and cover baby with a blanket and maintain skin-to-skin contact with Mom.
- Baby will almost certainly take a breath on his own, but if he does not, rub him vigorously with a dry towel or flick the bottom of his feet. This will cause him to gasp and begin breathing.
- Check baby’s heart rate by feeling for a pulse at the base of his belly button. Count beats for 6 seconds and multiply by ten. For instance, if you feel 12 beats in 6 seconds, his pulse rate is 120. His heart should beat between 120 and 160 beats per minute. If baby is not breathing or his heart is not beating rapidly enough, make sure an ambulance is on the way and, if necessary, begin infant CPR. Read these guidelines provided by the American Red Cross on when and how to perform infant CPR.
- Once the placenta delivers, massage the uterus by rubbing her abdomen below Mom’s navel to prevent excess bleeding. If an ambulance will be there soon, there’s no need to cut the umbilical cord. Simply wrap the placenta and keep it attached to baby. If an ambulance cannot reach you, call your hospital for guidelines on what to do. Have clean shoelaces, dental floss or embroidery thread and sterilized scissors (washed and wiped with rubbing alcohol) available, in case you do need to cut the cord. Here’s how to do that.
- Tie the umbilical cord in two places — about three inches from baby’s tummy and again at about five inches. Make sure the string is tied tightly.
- Cut in between the two ties.
- Wrap the placenta in a towel and transport it to the hospital when medical help arrives.
- Breastfeed ASAP after delivery to help prevent Mom from bleeding and to keep baby’s blood sugar and body temperature stable.
EMC would love to hear your birth stories if your baby is born during this blizzard or during previous storms. Share on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook using the hashtag #everymothercounts or email your story to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bundle up and stay warm and safe out there.