NHCL foresees Hurricane Irene’s labor-inducing powers

30 Aug 2011 | Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

Human physiology is something that, even after centuries of medical practice and research, is still not completely understood. Much akin to how the moon’s influence over the Earth’s tides was once a mystery, such can be said for the effect that drastic changes in the weather have over full-term pregnant women.

Hurricane Irene was a storm that some people could think lightly of, for as opposed to the tornado that ravaged the area on the night of April 16, Irene was expected far in advance, allowing for ample preparations to be taken. One such preparation was the transformation of Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune into a fully-functional hurricane shelter for families of patients as well as of the staff.

“(The night of Aug. 26) we had 305 staff members, including many for rotating shifts, 35 patients, 85 family members, 20-plus late pregnant women and their families and 22 pets in cages,” stated Navy Capt. Daniel J. Zinder in a report published to Navy Medicine online. “We brought six new Navy/Marine Corps babies into the world Friday night.”

Following the events of Friday night until the afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 27, two more babies were born in the hospital, totaling eight born during the course of Hurricane Irene.

While only one newborn carries “Irene” as a middle name, what was the complete scope of care given to full-term women by the hospital?

“The Labor and Delivery Ward had 11 nurses for day shifts and seven for the night along with a midwife, (obstetrics and gynecology) doctor and a family practice resident, with supplies brought in for eight days,” said Scott Staup, division officer for the Labor and Delivery Ward, NHCL. “We had to relocate the patients to different rooms due to the tornado warning, but even with that and a power outage, our corpsmen and nurses did everything to ensure the patients were taken care of.”

The hospital ensured it contacted all women at or past the 38-week gestation period currently receiving care in the hospital to warn them about the effect of such a storm on pregnant women.

Many took advantage of the offered care, and whether by the barometric pressure or the chance of time, eight women gave birth in the wake of the storm.

While there is no defining study or single point of agreement in the matter, recent independent studies have shown evidence that a drop in barometric pressure creates suction on the amniotic sac.

Whether or not an individual’s amniotic sac withstands such a pressure suction is left up to chance, it stands that such a change in the atmospheric pressure can naturally induce labor two weeks before it was “slated” to occur.

“Three of the eight births that took place were done by caesarean section, but the other five might have been influenced,” said Staup. “We estimated that we would go above our daily delivery average and prepared as such, bringing eight healthy babies into the world.”

While the interference with the amniotic sac may or may not be the cause behind the atmosphere’s influence on full-term pregnant women, it is one factor the naval hospital ensured it was prepared for as they waited out Hurricane Irene.