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Hurricane Sandy & Labor: What's True, What's Not?

There’s an idea that very low barometric pressure can trigger the onset of labor. This may be true– there’s some anecdotal evidence that labor and delivery rooms get crowded after a storm (as opposed to before a storm). Hurricane Sandy was noted for many extraordinary qualities, among them a very low barometric pressure.

But we have no evidence that this triggers labor. I think there may be a way that some environmental conditions might help push a labor that is totally ready to go into action. But the body has to be ready: the hormone receptors need to be switched on, the hormones increasing flow, the pregnancy complete. Once these things are in place, sure, maybe something like a low-pressure system or very spicy food or lots of sex could push that labor into gear. Maybe.

But here’s the other thing about nature and our bodies. Labor is largely governed by the hormone oxytocin, and oxytocin flow is inhibited by large amounts of stress — especially the kind of stress that triggers the “flight or fight” response. In this news story over at ABCNews.com a couple obstetricians claim the hurricane-labor connection is a myth — if we’re going to talk about how nature works, they point out, we have to pay attention to the way labor shuts down during a crisis.

This is not based on any research — because, as far as I know there is none — but I’m guessing it’s not all that typical for a woman to go into labor right smack in the middle of a crisis, (weather-related or not) especially if it’s her first time giving birth. These labors take 24 hours on average anyway, so even with Sandy, there would have been an opportunity to get somewhere safe in time for the birth. But subsequent labors can come on very fast. And they seem to be less interested in what’s going on around them.

I think any woman who is very pregnant (beyond 37 weeks) is going to be attentive to weather reports and road conditions no matter where she lives and what time of year it is.  And if she has a husband, he’ll be twice as attentive. This makes sense.

But here’s something: In the book Pushed by Jennifer Block there’s an incredibly reassuring chapter about the consequences of Hurricane Charlie down south some years back. The hospital was forced to run on generators and therefore only allowed for seriously medically necessary medical interventions during labor. Mostly women were not given medications such as the labor induction drug, pitocin. Guess what happened? Their statistics improved considerably. Women gave birth without a lot of medications — C-section rates went down, fetal distress was lower than normal, babies and mothers did extremely well. Isn’t that interesting?

Ceridwen Morris, CCE, is a writer, childbirth educator and the co-author of From The Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Becoming a Parent. Follow her  on Facebook.

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