Courtesy Joseph Bulls
Elizabeth Barry, 18, of Suffolk, Va., gave birth in the middle of Hurricane Irene, part of deluge of babies at her local hospital.
Image: JoNel Aleccia
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
msnbc.com
updated 8/29/2011 2:51:27 PM ET 2011-08-29T18:51:27

Hurricane Irene's sweep up the East Coast spawned a swath of damage from powerful winds and rains, but also a legacy of a happier sort — a crew of new babies born in the heart of a howling storm.

Some hospitals dotting the Eastern seaboard reported sharp upticks in hurricane births over the wild weekend, giving new life to an old rumor about a drop in barometric pressure sending women into labor.

At Sentara Obici Hospital in Suffolk, Va., 15 babies were born between Friday night and Sunday morning, topping the usual three or four in a typical day, said Sharon Hoggard, spokeswoman for Sentara Health System.

"The winds blew him in, I guess," said new father Joseph Bulls, 35, of Suffolk. Braylon Michael Bulls was born at about 5:40 p.m. Saturday after a harrowing ride to the hospital through wind and rain and flying branches as mom Elizabeth Barry, 18, sped through her first labor.

"You can't stop the baby coming," he added.

At New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C., 17 babies were born during an 18-hour stretch Friday and Saturday when the hospital was on lockdown because of the storm, said Carolyn Fisher, the hospital's spokeswoman. Usually the hospital might see 10 or 11 babies on a typical day.

It was so busy that Andi Curtis, 35, of Carolina Beach, N.C., had to deliver her new daughter just before midnight Friday without the epidural she wanted because doctors were so busy with other moms and her labor progressed so quickly. By the time they got ready to prep her, Parker Elizabeth Curtis was on the way.

"The whole week we had been wondering about the hurricane and about whether the baby would come, two things completely out of your control," said Curtis.

Image: Parker Elizabeth Curtis
Andi Curtis
Parker Elizabeth Curtis was among 17 babies born over 18 hours at a North Carolina Hospital.

The baby was due Aug. 29, but when Hurricane Irene reared her head, there was no shortage of people predicting an early delivery because of the sudden drop in barometric pressure that comes with a storm.

"Everybody told me, you're going to have the baby this weekend," Curtis said.

That's a popular idea, but not one based in science, according to Dr. Alison Stuebe, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina.

Specific studies of the link between barometric pressure and labor have found small associations, but no clear ties. And some studies have found no relationship at all. Wall-to-wall hurricane coverage might send some women to the hospital earlier than usual, and people might pay attention more when a flurry of babies is born in a storm, she said.

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"I suspect there are nervous patients and nervous doctors and that's part of the boom," she said.

None of the babies in New Hanover medical center or Sentara Obici was named Irene. That honor was reserved for two little girls born over the weekend at Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville, N.C., said spokeswoman Barbara Dunn.

"We have two babies whose first names are Irene and one baby whose middle name is Irene," she said.

TODAY Moms: Blackout babies are a myth, but hurricane names pack a punch

But Dunn added that the storm didn't spark a deluge of babies there. In fact, she said, the number of babies born was less than expected, perhaps confirming doubts about a hurricane baby boom.

Back home in Carolina Beach with her new daughter, however, Andi Curtis is not so sure.

"I thought it was just an old wives' tale," she said. "But 17 babies can't be wrong."

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