Some areas of the country have had declines in pregnancy rates because people don't feel secure economically or otherwise. But Bloomington-Normal may see a baby boom rather than a baby bust.
In June, Brookings Institute scholars said there could be 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in 2021. Scholars based this projection off economic studies of fertility behavior, along with data presented from the Great Recession and the 1918 Spanish Flu.
However, OSF Healthcare St. Joseph Medical Center, Carle BroMenn Medical Center and the Bloomington-Normal Birthing Center are preparing for a surge in births.
The B-N Birthing Center has seen a 20% increase in patients. The center specializes in prenatal care, midwives and water births. Administrator Stephanie Harper said the increase is due to their type of care.
Harper said the increase is mostly because expectant parents want to minimize COVID risk by staying at home. But some can be attributed to that extra time to do … well, the things that have to happen for babies to come along.
“We have heard of some quarantine babies, for sure ... but I would guess it is more attributed to that we are becoming more established and well known. Really families are seeking out our type of care,” said Harper.
Carle BroMenn in Normal also expects a surge in newborns this month.
Stephanie Wollenberg has been the Mother-Baby Unit manager for 10 years at Carle BroMenn and said they’re preparing for that surge.
“When we had the Cubs win the World Series, we had that 10-month surge after that which was weird. We are always ready for those surges to happen, we plan for that kind of staffing,” said Wollenberg. “We have it in our back pocket all the time, every day. The pandemic, as far as being prepared, that’s our normal everyday business.”
All Carle BroMenn parents-to-be are COVID tested prior to scheduled procedures. If there are patients who come in and are in active-labor they are tested upon admission.
Bringing life into the pandemic world may pose financial and health risks. Wollenberg said the community’s education helps ease the fear that comes with having a baby in a pandemic.
“The community and news has educated families for what that looks like. I think our obstetricians here have educated our families. The Illinois Department of Public Health provides education materials when we send families home,” said Wollenberg. “We educate our families that when you go home you need to limit visitors.”
Wollenberg not only has professional experience with COVID pregnancies but a personal one.
“My son and his wife are ready to have a baby during COVID. That has been cool to watch the assess the risks and benefits. What do they need to do? What do we need to do on a holiday to isolate? They’re due in two weeks so they’re right at the peak of this,” said Wollenberg.
The pandemic has isolated many. Birthing Center Administrator Stephanie Harper said that’s a concern for pregnant women before and after the babies arrive.
“There’s been numerous barriers for pregnant moms. We moved our childbirth education classes to an online format so that they were able to access those,” said Harper. “But really we are allowing plenty of time after appointments to talk through everything and to make sure everyone is getting access to the resources they need.”
The coronavirus vaccine also has implications for the maternity world. Harper says there aren’t many studies yet, especially on nursing mothers.
“We are encouraging moms to have an individual discussion with their provider and go through their risks and benefits. While we are learning more all the time there are still a lot of unknowns.”
By the numbers
So far McLean County records show birth statistics about even with last year. September had 212 births, October had 184, and November had 179. All standard.
But OSF St. Joseph Medical Center staff said they too are preparing for a possible surge.
Manager of patient care in the OSF Birthing Center, Maggie St. Peters, said she thinks this anticipation can be attributed to people being at home in close quarters.
“I’ll be honest: Looking at our prenatals going forward, I’m not seeing a huge influx, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t,” said St. Peters. “We get prenatals, but then there are other hospitals in Bloomington-Normal. They could deliver here or across town, it really just depends on where patients are choosing to deliver their babies.”
St. Peters said financial hardships may have played some role in pregnancy this year, but as far as being prepared OSF is factoring in quarantine surprises.
“Now, I can't say whether that influx will definitely happen just in McLean County, because there are those other factors. And that's something that you get conflicting information, because there are factors that affect people while they're at home, they're not working, or they're working from home. And there definitely are significant financial impacts for some families,” said St. Peters. “I think it's a catch 22, and it can go both ways where you do have those unexpected surprise pregnancies, where you also have those that are planning to get pregnant or you're planning to get pregnant and may delay that due to COVID-19.”
Postpartum may hit mothers especially hard this year. St. Peters said the OSF Birthing Center is working with new staff and resources to better serve baby blues, especially in a pandemic.
“We do have several nurses as well to have that as a passion and for either personal or professional or both reasons,” said St. Peters. “We are really taking a look at that because for moms it may not be this may not even be experienced anticipated, because right now we are restricting those visitors down to one essential support person.”
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