Hamilton hospitals are seeing the biggest 'baby boom' in recent memory

Hamilton hospitals say they're experiencing some of the highest birth rates ever, something that doesn't seem to be happening across Canada. The big question is: Why?

Rise in births is 'unprecedented,' says a director at McMaster Children's Hospital

Kai was welcomed into the world by Mearleen Main and Ravi Hookoom on July 3, part of a Hamilton baby boom. (Submitted by Ravi Hookoom)

When Mearleen Main was in labour on July 3, just two spots were open in the labour and delivery unit at McMaster Children's Hospital.

Their baby, Kai, was born healthy and happy.

"For us, it's exciting," said Ravi Hookoom, Main's partner. "We wanted a family."

The near-full labour and delivery unit isn't uncommon right now in Hamilton.

Main and Hookoom both work at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), as a medical technician and safety specialist, respectively, and know the city is seeing a "baby boom."

"On a daily basis, we discuss capacity," Hookoom said

"Neonatal was one of them and [labour and delivery] was the other one quite frequently in the red, meaning we have a surge in operations, staffing matters we need to work with and bed management."

New parents Main and Hookoom work at Hamilton Health Sciences. (Submitted by Ravi Hookoom)

In a staff town hall meeting on July 8, Sharon Pierson, HHS chief operating officer and executive vice-president of clinical operations, reported 367 deliveries in the hospital network in June — the highest number ever recorded in a month.

HHS also saw 1,057 deliveries in the first quarter of 2021, which is 14 per cent higher than the year prior.

Nicole Vaillancourt, a public affairs manager at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, said St. Joe's also saw a rise in births.

8% increase at St. Joe's

"There were 278 infants born in June 2021. Based on current information, we're projecting the same number of births or higher during the month of July, which is the largest number of infants delivered since September 2019," she said in a statement.

"St. Joe's Women's and Infants' Program is experiencing an increase in the number of births. Comparing the period of March to July 2020 to March to July 2021, we've seen an eight per cent increase in births."

Normally, more babies are born in the spring and summer, she said.

Pierson, during the HHS meeting, offered some potential explanations. It could be the pandemic, she said, or young families moving to the city.

The Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington doesn't track the age of buyers and sellers, so there's no way to know what exactly is causing the birth spurt.

Pressure on hospitals

Kelly Falzon, director of women's and newborns at McMaster Children's Hospital, calls the rise in births "unprecedented."

In the meantime, she and Pierson said, the boom is putting pressure on hospitals, though neither detailed how it has affected capacity.

"The team has been working very hard ... the impact of COVID in the first place on health-care providers has been significant, and with the continued number and volume in births we're having, this too has challenged the team," Falzon said.

Pierson said HHS has been trying to find ways to free up space, and Falzon said she expects the number of births to stay at a high rate.

Falzon said staff from other areas have been helping manage the high number.

She plans to try to figure out why so many people are having babies.

Nationally, early numbers show the pandemic hasn't led to a widespread boom of new citizens.

Statistics Canada released data in March that showed the Canadian population only grew 0.4 per cent in 2020, the lowest increase since the First World War.