Photo: CorbisFile this under Mother's Worst Nightmare Comes True: Two babies were switched at birth in Argentina last month and reunited with their moms on Monday only after a chance meeting at a pediatrician checkup. "I spent three weeks with a baby that was not my daughter, but I gave her all my love and knew that the other mom would do the same," Lorena Gerbeno, a lawyer, told Argentine broadcaster C5N.
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Gerbeno and Veronica Tejada both gave birth to baby girls on Sept. 30 at the Sanatorio Argentina clinic in San Juan. Gerbeno realized something was off when staffers gave her conflicting information about the weight of her newborn. When she pressed, she adds, she was not given any answers. The clinic, meanwhile, has admitted that it made a "mistake" and is cooperating with an investigation.
Luckily, the ordeal ended happily. But how could it have even happened? And do expectant moms need to fret about it happening here in the United States?
"I think it's every new mom's fear," Maureen Donohue, director of patient care services at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, tells Yahoo Shine. "The way they publicly see delivery [in pop culture] makes them think they'll be out of it and that someone will take advantage of that."
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Babies have been switched at birth-as well as abducted-in maternity wards in this country, although such cases are extremely rare. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a total of 132 infants were abducted from hospitals between 1983 and 2012, with eight such abductions occurring in 2012 alone.
Instances of infants being switched, though, are even less common. Just last year, a Minneapolis hospital briefly mixed up infants by putting one baby into another's bassinet, resulting in his being breastfed by the wrong mom. "You put your baby in the nursery, not even 48 hours old, and you think they're safe," that boy's mom, Tammy Van Dyke, told ABC News.
In 2008, two moms who had just returned home from delivering their babies at the Heartland Regional Medical Center in Marion, Illinois, received calls telling them that their infants had accidentally been swapped. It happened, the hospital explained, when the boys were taken at the same time to get circumcisions, and their IDs were removed and mistakenly put back onto the wrong babies.
The more horrific switcheroo stories are decades old: In 1998, it was discovered that Callie Conley and Rebecca Chittum had been switched in their Virginia hospital soon after being born; by that point, the girls were already 3 years old and one child's parents had died in a car crash. After years of legal battles, it was agreed that the girls would stay with the families who had raised them. And in 1978, in Sarasota, Florida, Kimberly Mays and Arlena Twigg were famously sent home with the wrong parents, which no one found out until the girls were 9. The dramatic tale inspired a made-for-TV movie in 1991. Today the mega-popular "Switched at Birth" television series is proof that the plot is ever fascinating.
But in real life, of course, it's a horrifying possibility-and one that American hospitals today go to great lengths to avoid.
At Long Island Jewish Medical Center, the newest facility in the North Shore hospital system, Donohue says maternity-ward security measures are up-to-the-minute, starting with the moment a baby is born: That's when one ID band is put on a wrist and two more are put on each ankle, bearing medical-record numbers as well as numbers that match those of both the mom and the second parent. Then, in the nursery, a third ankle band that's synched to a "LoJack-like" system gets added into the mix, triggering an alarm that alerts security and the elevators anytime the infant exits his or her approved security boundaries.
Finally, Donohue notes, every maternity ward in the hospital system is a "lockdown unit," where no one can pass in or out without permission. "If a visitor doesn't know the name of the patient they're coming to see, we turn them away," she says. There's no shortage of security cameras, either.
Other hospitals around the country take similar measures, with matching ID bracelets for mom and baby, as well as locked maternity wards, becoming the norm. "We take the security of our littlest patients very seriously," notes the website of Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. "Both our labor and delivery and maternity floors are locked units where only designated personnel can gain access using ID swipe cards. Families, visitors and other personnel can only gain entrance to the units by notifying staff via a bell system."
More and more hospitals are adding the security-band system, either on an ankle band or with the umbilical-cord stub, including Saint Barnabas Medical Center in West Orange, New Jersey, and the Wake Forest Baptist Health-Lexington Medical Center in Lexington, North Carolina. LMC was prompted to add the measure in 2012 after a California incident in which a woman dressed in medical scrubs attempted to abduct a newborn by putting the infant in a bag.
"While the new system may seem cumbersome to some, it is necessary to ensure that our newborns are safe at all times," Steven Snelgrove, LMC president, said at the time. "New mothers and fathers are understandably absorbed with their new baby during their hospital stay. The enhanced security enables the new parents and the staff to focus on the most important thing - caring for a beautiful, healthy newborn."
Was this a fear if you gave birth in a hospital?
No, not really. All my babies had security anklets within minutes of birth prior to leaving my DH or my sight.
I also got to see my babies immediately following birth. I would like to think, given a different baby, I would be like "hey this baby does look like mine!"
With ds1 he was given an ankle band that was electronically tied to my wristband immediately after birth. Alarms would sound if his anklet crossed the doors without my wristband next to it.
Ds2 was born in a birth center so he didn't leave my side and dh stayed with him when he was transfered to the nicu
Our hospital puts bands on all babies right away, they are roomed in with mom unless sick or premature, and they double check names, bands (moms get a matching band while staying there) and any other info they can anytime baby leaves mom, which for a healthy baby is never- all the post birth stuff is now done in the room right after birth. Babies who have to go to the nursery have even tighter security- the maternity wing is locked, and then the nursery is locked as well. Only way to get in is with a nurse who is assigned to the nursery. No chance of switches here.
NO WAY. There were major security precautions taken at the hospital DS was born in. He had a security photo taken and a security anklet placed before he was taken out of the OR to PACU by DH. All 3 of us had matching wrist bands and the nurses made sure to verify the wrist bands every time he was taken out of the room. We were even instructed to not hand him to anyone that were not wearing certain colored badges.
The first day in the family care unit, everyone shoved their badge in our face when they entered the room. We were also instructed that we could not take him on carpeted areas of the floor (near the exit doors) as his ankle alarm would shut down every exit and elevator on the floor.
When we got ready to leave with him, there were 2 different nurses that verified our bands before allowing us to leave.
Lol. No circumcision for Steph?
DD roomed with me. We both had electronic bands. They scanned the bands for each procedure done. At one point, they came to get her and I questioned why. They said it was for circumcision. I was like, " Uh, reread that order, please."