May 29, 2013 -- Almost before the lights went out during Superstorm Sandy this past October, there were predictions of a baby boom to follow nine months later. The assumption is that without Internet, TV or electricity to keep them busy, a lot of couples got busy in the bedroom.
True to that expectation, some New York area hospitals are bracing for a higher than usual number of babies this summer.
Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of the division of gynecology at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, reported that his hospital expected a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in the number of babies being born in July and August this year compared to last year.
"July through September are typically the busiest months for us, but this is above our baseline," he said. "The only factor that seems to be affecting this is Sandy."
Likewise, Dr. Amos Grunebaum, Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, said his team anticipates 20 percent to 30 percent more deliveries than usual starting at the end of July through the first week in August -- exactly nine months after the storm tore through New York City and surrounding areas.
Other hospital administrators dismissed the idea of a "Sandy baby boom" as a myth and said that based on upcoming patient schedules, the storm didn't influence birth rates at all.
"There is this misconception that if you are sitting in the dark you should have babies, but in this day and age people either plan when they will have their babies, or those who don't will have them irrespective of the weather," said Dr. Raymond Sandler, director of labor and delivery at Mt. Sinai Hospital in upper Manhattan.
Research doesn't appear to settle the argument.
In 1966, researchers from the University of North Carolina debunked a story by the New York Times that reported a spike in birthrates after the 12-hour New York City blackout of November 1965.
The story, which based its findings on informal statistics taken from several local hospitals, claimed an increase in births of 40 percent compared to the year before. When the researchers performed a more rigorous accounting of births in the area, they found no such baby bump.
And nine months after New York City and surrounding regions suffered another blackout in 2003, the birthrate in New York City actually dipped slightly compared to the previous year.
However, birth rates rose in Oklahoma County after the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995, a University of Oklahoma study found. So did fertility in all five New York City boroughs after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, particularly in Manhattan where the attacks took place, according to an unpublished University of Pennsylvania study.
"Differences in fertility might depend on the duration and severity of the disaster," said Mathew Ruther, an associate researcher with the University of Colorado at Boulder who has examined the effect of tragic events on birth rates.
That theory is backed up by a 2010 Journal of Population Economics study. Researchers found that less severe weather "watches" were followed by a slight increase in births nine months later, whereas more ominous weather "warnings" were followed by a slight drop in birthrates nine months afterwards.
This could mean that more families who sailed through Sandy relatively unscathed are about to grow larger, but families who were harder hit by the storm are more likely to put off having children for the foreseeable future.
"Though it's a strange way to think about having children, there is a cost benefit analysis that goes on," Ruther said. "If your roof has just blown off during a hurricane, you might postpone having kids due to the price shock of having to replace it."
Whether the Sandy baby boom turns out to be a myth or a real phenomenon, Ruther said that no study has ever found any long term changes in fertility rates as the result of a major storm or some other tragic event.
"There can be a temporary shock effect up or down nine months afterward that makes people reschedule their fertility a little bit, but they're not going to have more kids as a result," he said.