I’m sure many of you remember that photo of Midwife Cathy Rude riding an inflatable swan through a flood to get to a laboring client. Her dedication and quick thinking were deemed heroic and ingenious, and I’m sure her client would agree. The reality of life is that babies are born on all days of the year, and they don’t stop for things like hurricanes or floods.
It’s Hurricane Season here in South Florida, and if you are expecting a baby, it is important to be prepared. South Florida had its first major hurricane contact in a while last year, with Hurricane Matthew grazing the East Coast. This year looks like it will bring a few more major storms our way, beginning with Irma. Besides stocking up on essentials like water, batteries, and gasoline, it would be worth it to stock up on emergency supplies, like towels, bandages, gloves, rubbing alcohol or betadine, and lysol wipes (for clean-up) just in case you need to deliver your baby in the middle of a storm and there is no way to get to the hospital. If you have a history of fast labors, it is even more important to be aware and prepared.
What is the likelihood of having to deliver unassisted during a hurricane?
This question varies from region to region, and depends on the severity of the storms. According to the IAFC safety guide and model procedures, Firefighters and EMS will not deploy emergency vehicles when winds are sustained at over 50 mph, or have gusts of over 65 mph. For reference, a category 1 hurricane has sustained winds of 74 mph, with storm surge floods of 4-5 feet. Winds that strong have the ability to drive vehicles off the road. This means that if you are to go into labor in the middle of a hurricane, and could not drive yourself, there would likely not be an ambulance in operation for a while.
Another thing that factors into the likelihood of delivering during a storm is statistics. Studies have suggested that there is a link between barometric pressure drops (like during a huge storm) and labor. There is no concrete evidence to support this theory, merely correlation in some studies. If you are due and there is a storm approaching, it is still something to be aware of, despite the circumstantial evidence behind the claim.
I’m due in the middle of Hurricane Season- what should I be doing to prepare?
The first thing to do is talk to your care provider. Express your concerns, and come up with a plan of action in the event of a hurricane. Some hospitals will allow women within a week of their due date (before or after) to wait out a big hurricane in the lobby of the hospital, to prevent being stranded at home in the event labor does start. If your hospital does not offer this option, then create an emergency plan. How far from the hospital or birth center are you? Do you have an emergency radio or landline you could use if cell towers are down? Does your car have 4 wheel drive, and are you comfortable driving with high winds and possible flooding?
The beauty of hurricanes is that you can see them coming. You have time to prepare, and to get a plan in place in case labor starts while it is here. Solidify your plans now, and hope that you don’t have to use it. In the event you do have to use it, you will have taken the guesswork out of the equation by creating a plan in advance.
What happens if I go into labor in the middle of a hurricane and have to deliver my baby myself?
The best advice I can give for this scenario is to stay as calm as possible. I know, you are birthing a baby in a storm, it’s a little hard to stay calm! If you still have cell service or a working landline, call 911. They will guide you over the phone on things to look for, to pay attention to, and the steps to take once the baby is out. Emergency services will come to you as soon as they can, but it may not be until the storm has passed. If you are delivering at home and have a working phone, it is vital to call for instructions as you deliver.
If you don’t have access to an emergency call, there are some key things to do and to look for if you have to deliver your own baby. Please note that nothing in this section should be taken as concrete medical advice, and everything should be discussed with your doctor when creating your emergency plan. We are not recommending Unassisted Childbirth as an immediate go-to plan in a hurricane scenario, merely covering what to do if it happens.
If no phone access is available…
You’ll want to lay down plenty of towels. Throw towels in the dryer, so you have something warm to wrap yourself and the baby in after the delivery. If you don’t have power during the storm as you deliver, you will need flashlights, phone lights, or candles. Always wash your hands before inserting them into your vagina. If your water breaks, minimize the amount of times your hands are up there to reduce the risk of infection. You’ll want to make sure the umbilical cord is not coming out first, as that is a condition known as cord prolapse and it is incredibly dangerous for your baby. For instructions on what to do in the event of cord prolapse, consult your care provider while discussing your ’emergency hurricane plan’.
Stay low to the ground while pushing, as babies are incredibly slippery when they are born. Being low to the ground (and on something soft like a towel pile) can help prevent any injury. Once the baby is out, sweep the inside of their mouth with your finger, to clear any mucus. The baby should begin to breathe and cry, and the skin tone should become pink. If the baby seems to be struggling to breathe, rub their back vigorously, and use a suction bulb. Wrap the baby (and yourself) in a warm towel or blanket. After the baby is delivered, the placenta will follow shortly after. Place the placenta in a bowl, to minimize the mess. It will still be attached to your baby, and cutting or burning the cord would be up to you. You may opt to leave the placenta and cord intact until an ambulance can arrive at your house to assist.
Have a plan in place. And a backup plan for your plan. Talk with your care provider, and be aware of the possibility of a storm around your due date. Watch the news, and keep your house stocked on hurricane essentials. Chances are, you will deliver without having to worry about a massive hurricane disrupting your process. But it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.