Hurricane Sandy Babies: Myths and Realities

Some doctors say barometric pressure in a hurricane can trigger labor.

October 29, 2012, 8:57 PM

Oct. 30, 2012— -- Robyn Moreno, due to give birth, paid little attention to Hurricane Sandy, until police circled her Battery Park City neighborhood in Lower Manhattan and ordered mandatory evacuations in anticipation of a record tidal surge.

Just before the historic storm hit New York City, the 36-year-old freelance writer and her husband had talked about taking a short vacation in the Hamptons, on Long Island's East End, before the baby arrived.

"I was looking forward to a relaxing week," said Moreno. "We fixed the nursery, and put the crib together and suddenly the big rainstorm came. Holy cow – what are we going to do? I am going to have a baby in the middle of a storm, and I live in Zone A?"

Along with Manhattan's Battery Park City, Zone A includes Coney Island in Brooklyn, Far Rockaway and Broad Channel in Queens, and other low-lying areas on Staten Island.

"We had to be prepared to have the baby," Moreno said. "I had to pack a hospital bag and a baby bag, a car seat – literally seven bags of stuff."

Having a baby in the midst of a natural disaster takes on mythical proportions in the world of medicine. Some say that the plummeting barometric pressure can trigger labor. Others say mammals instinctively forestall labor in a stressful environment.

"After delivering over 1,000 babies as an obstetrician, I can tell you that most OBs have heard the saying that storms and full moons often mean a busier day or night on labor and delivery," said Dr. Jennifer Ashton, an obstetrician in Englewood, N.J. "The theory is that a drop in barometric pressure is associated with the rupturing of the membranes of the amniotic sac, causing a pregnant woman to 'break her water.'"

Although hard scientific evidence is nonexistent, Ashton said that one retrospective study published in a midwifery journal reported a "significant increase in deliveries" in the 24 hours after a storm compared with before a storm.

"The link between weather and lunar cycles extends beyond childbirth; there are associations between migraines, other headaches and musculoskeletal pain," said Ashton.

Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of the division of gynecology at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, debunks the storm theory as a myth. "Mammals in general have stress hormones that prevent them going into labor," he said. "Generally, they don't have babies when there is stress outside."

But both doctors confirm conventional wisdom that nine months after an event such as Hurricane Sandy, which had been reduced to a post-tropical cyclone when it finally made landfall just south of Atlantic City, N.J., Monday evening, will result in an uptick in pregnancies.

"At the hospital, we were just saying that nine months from now business will be busier than hell," Moritz said. "That's probably for sure. Everybody is cooped up inside. ... I would not be surprised. It happened after 9/11."

That, too, has been upended by at least two university studies. The theory arose after New York City's blackout on Nov. 9, 1965, when The New York Times reported "a sharp increase in births" nine months afterward.

The newspaper quoted Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which explained, "Sexuality is a very powerful force, and people would normally indulge in sex if they didn't have anything else to do."

Still, hurricanes hold an allure, particularly when it comes to naming a baby.

Monday afternoon, at the height of the storm, Moritz delivered blue-eyed, black-haired Isla Rose O'Flynn, who was almost named Sandy.

"I actually like Frankie better [for Frankenstorm]," said Isla's mother, Corinna Durland. "I do think Frances is great, but we had something else in mind."

Durland, 38, was scheduled to have labor induced next week because she was two weeks past her due date. "But with the storm coming on, they wanted to get going and do this for me," she said. "I was right at the edge."

She texted a friend this morning to tell her she would be going to the hospital, only to learn that her friend had gone into labor. "We were kind of joking around, but I got to see her new baby, Max, this morning."

Durland said her daughter's birth, in the midst of a storm, was, if not auspicious, a "pretty dramatic story."

"There is a full moon, my dad's birthday was yesterday, the hurricane is starting and we are on the edge of Halloween," she said. "We think maybe she waited on purpose. She was out and perfect before the full storm."

Doctors say that aside from the myths, women should pay attention to the weather if their due date is approaching.

"Women close to their due date who think they are in early labor should not wait until they feel the baby's head come out," said obstetrician Ashton. "Call your doctor or go to the hospital sooner, rather than later."

Hospitals will also consider "soft admissions" for women who are not actually in labor, according to Ashton. "They just don't want to take chances that women get stranded before they can get to the hospital."

But one 31-year-old mother from New Jersey didn't feel the need to panic. Alice, who did not want to share her last name, is 37 weeks pregnant, and has a 2-year-old at home.

"I have no contingency plans," she said. "I'm just hoping I don't go into labor! My first one was close to on time, so I'm hoping my second one will be too. … [The hospital] is a five-minute drive, though I wouldn't look forward to making that drive in this weather.

Monday night, her husband said, "Thank you for not going into labor."

"At least not tonight," Alice said, as the storm closed in.

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