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Cyclone Veronica heralds baby boom in WA's Pilbara, with five bubs born in 24 hours

Sonia Feng, Tuesday March 26, 2019 - 12:42 EDT
ABC image
Baby Veronica, with mum Francis Starr and midwife Danielle Johnson. - ABC

Five babies were born within 24 hours as severe Tropical Cyclone Veronica approached Western Australia's Pilbara coast, bringing destructive winds, torrential rainfall and mass flooding.

Around 5pm on Sunday evening, at the peak of Cyclone Veronica's impact, heavily pregnant Francis Starr was transported via ambulance to Hedland Health Campus.

Ms Starr had a healthy baby girl called Veronica.

Amanda McKinley, clinical midwifery and paediatric manager at Hedland Health Campus, helped deliver baby Veronica.

She said Ms Starr's primary midwife looked out the window and said, "Imagine if you called her Veronica?".

"When the baby was born, the mum actually declared, 'Hello Veronica'," Ms McKinley said.

"We were all stoked. We thought it was beautiful."

Three other babies were delivered at the hospital in South Hedland and one baby was delivered in the nearby town of Karratha within the first 24 hours of the red alert being issued.

During red alerts no-one is allowed outside until an all-clear is declared by authorities.

Ms McKinley said the maternity department was the busiest ward at the hospital during the red alert.

She said it was an unusually high number of births for the Hedland Health Campus.

"For us, it's been a very busy March," she said.

"We've had record numbers of women booked to give birth here during the month.

"We've already had 40 births with another six remaining due.

"We thought we might be in for a very busy time during the cyclone period."

News of the births spurred various theories on social media, such as the belief that atmospheric pressure changes and stress associated with significant weather events could encourage labour.

While there is plenty of folklore that big storms bring on babies, experts have theories but no firm evidence that this is the case.

The stress of it all

Dr Sarah Baynes, Associate Professor of Midwifery at Edith Cowan University, said that the stress of an impending natural disaster might bring on labour.

"There have been studies in Queensland around the floods and it's been shown in the scientific literature that anxiety scores increase levels of what they call 'fight or flight hormones' — which means in a primal way, women can feel it is safer for their baby to be born than stay inside," she said.

"It's not a conscious decision but a hormonal effect."

However, not everyone agreed with the theory.

Ms McKinley said, "adrenaline actually prevents labour from occurring naturally".

"There's quite a mixed view on it."

Despite the differing opinions most experts can agree on one thing — good midwifery practice helps alleviate stress levels in times of natural disaster.

Something in the air

The other theory comes from old midwives' tale about atmospheric pressure's effect on childbirth.

According to Dr Lesley Kuliukas from Curtin University's School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine, when there is a storm brewing or high tide, midwives often declare, "We're going to be busy tonight".

Dr Kuliukas said it could be more than just folklore.

A found thunderstorms could reduce the gestation period for cows and a separate study found barometric pressure changes could affect labour.

"What they believe is that the gravitational pull affects the amniotic fluid, which increases the likelihood of membrane ruptures or waters breaking," Dr Kuliukas said.

Dr Kuliukas rebutted the theory of stress-induced labour and said that if women were subjected to any anxiety, it actually inhibited their labour.

"I would always say go back in nature," she said.

"When an animal goes into labour, it finds itself a secure dark comfortable place and it labours very efficiently.

"If the labour is disturbed in any way, like a violent storm, it actually stops labouring and it doesn't restart until it finds itself in a safe place.

"I would say anxiety from a storm, would actually decrease the chance of someone going into labour rather than increase it."

Pilbara cyclone baby boom

St John South Hedland paramedic, Phil Stanaitis, who transported Ms Starr to hospital for the birth of baby Veronica, said he had seen babies born during every cyclone season he had been in the Pilbara region.

And this month had been a particularly busy one for the local maternity ward.

Ms McKinley said Hedland Health Campus had already delivered 40 babies this month, with another six due this week.

Whether or not Cyclone Veronica induced the labours, local baby photographers are already expecting another baby boom in about nine months' time, something they said Veronica would certainly be responsible for.


© ABC 2019

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