PROUD: Michelle Keir, nursing and midwifery director at Tamworth hospital, is proud of how the staff rallied together during the pandemic. Photo: Gareth Gardner

PROUD: Michelle Keir, nursing and midwifery director at Tamworth hospital, is proud of how the staff rallied together during the pandemic. Photo: Gareth Gardner

Baby boom bust: Tamworth hospital maternity's unexpected head count

Tamworth Rural Referral Hospital maternity unit's baby numbers for 2020

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The numbers surprised the hospital's nursing and midwifery director Michelle Keir, who said it could have either grown or shrunk thanks to the pandemic, however no-one really predicted the numbers to stay consistent over the years.

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IT WAS jokingly referred to as the COVID baby boom, but in Tamworth it failed to materialise with just one less baby born in 2020, than the year before.

Tamworth hospital saw 1001 baby boys and girls born last year, down from 1002 in 2019.

The numbers surprised the hospital's nursing and midwifery director Michelle Keir, who said it could have either grown or shrunk thanks to the pandemic, however no-one really predicted the numbers to stay consistent over the years.

However, she said it was worth noting that the so-called 'COVID babies' won't be born until March, so it was still a little premature to completely write-off a boom.

"I think there were two trains of thought. There was lots of commentary about the baby boom because people were at home more," she laughed.

"From an economic point of view however, people were losing their jobs, were concerned about the future, so our birth rate didn't change."

[W]e had all of our nurses and midwives willing to be trained as intensive care nurses if required, if [COVID] did get to Tamworth. - Michelle Keir

Whether or not the two mindsets were at play at the same time and cancelled each other out is hard to quantify, she said.

Ms Keir has been in the position for four years now and said the baby numbers have "remained fairly static" across the region, despite the drought.

"It's been sitting about that 1000 mark for the last few years," she said.

"Probably many have put off baby plans because of what was happening, the future of employment, what was the country going to look like for the next few months.

"We may see an increase now things are starting to settle, but we'd only begin to see that in the next six months."

The maternity ward has seen many changes this year and upon reflection, Ms Keir said she had been "humbled and honoured" by her staff who had been prepared to do whatever needed to be done to get through the pandemic.

"I think what was evident for us, we had all of our nurses and midwives willing to be trained as intensive care nurses if required, if [COVID] did get to Tamworth," she said.

Ms Keir said the pandemic changed the way they met with consumers, with Telehealth becoming the norm.

"Some of those [changes] have been very beneficial and will stay," she explained.

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"Women would travel for many miles right up from the Queensland border for appointments that could be done via telehealth, so it's changed the process, [and] reduced travel for families."

Even with the restrictions on visitors, the midwifery staff adapted once again and found ways to make the women comfortable in a COVID-safe way.

"It was very challenging, more challenging for the women and their families," Ms Keir said.

"There was a lot of Skyping and FaceTiming, so while relatives may not have been able to be at the birth they could still be involved in that part of the process."

The maternity unit has adjusted to the new COVID-normal processes, and is still planning for a busy year,

"I'm excited with some of the changes, and I hope to see all the planning will never have to implemented."

The story Baby boom bust: Tamworth hospital maternity's unexpected head count first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.

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