Last year's cold snap is giving us a snow babies boom
MATERNITY wards are stretched to breaking point as rising numbers of women are delivering babies conceived during the snowy months.
Snow babies -- the newborns conceived during last winter's bleak weather -- are now creating massive overcrowding in labour wards around the country.
Cases of women giving birth in hospital bathrooms, on trolleys and in cramped conditions are "endemic" across the country, according to groups lobbying for better facilities for new mums.
Jene Kelly, founder of the Association for the Improvements in the Maternity Services, said there were serious issues of overcrowding in hospitals across the country.
"There are now record levels of births as we are going through a baby boom," she said.
"There are on average, 9,000 births per year in each of the maternity hospitals -- that reaches over 20,000 in Dublin alone.
"Women are being pushed through the system."
HSE figures show the number of births is rising.
A total of 6,395 births were recorded at the end of July, an increase of 0.8pc.
This was the highest number of births reported in any month in 2010, but the HSE explained that July to September tend to be the peak months for births in any year.
But representatives said there was a "higher than usual demand" for services.
Ms Kelly, a mother of four herself, said that in 2008 KPMG conducted a review of hospitals which said that there was a need for over 300 critical maternity staff.
"With the recruitment embargo, there is little hope that this has improved," she said.
"Put that on top of the fact that we're in the middle of a boom."
"I spoke to one woman who gave birth in the bathroom.
"She felt she wasn't being listened to about her symptoms. She went to the bathroom and realised she was in labour and I believe she delivered before the midwife came out."
Ms Kelly, from Drogheda, said that moving care out of hospital is at the centre of the HSE's transformation programme, but that this is not being acted upon.
Janette Byrne from Patients Together said that the association has received shocking reports of pregnant women having to cope with congested wards.
"There is serious overcrowding in the hospitals," she said. "We are hearing stories of women giving birth on corridors while they wait for a ward."
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said overcrowding had reached "crisis point".
Last week, the organisation noted that seven women had to be catered for on trolleys along the corridors of St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny, as there were no free beds .
"Midwives and nurses on the unit were stretched to the limit as they worked flat out to provide a safe level of care to the increased number of patients in their care," said Lorraine Monaghan, Industrial Relations Officer with INMO.
"It is inevitable that this situation will occur again if measures are not put in place to deal with such peaks in activity."