The stories of babies being switched at birth are heartbreaking. When you give birth to a child, you give that baby a name, love that baby, care for it, and the child becomes an immediate part of your family. Yet despite hospital safeguards, switching babies is still something that occurs.
Out of 4 million total births, about 28,000 babies get switched ever year.
Overall this translates to about 1 mistake per every 1,000 baby transfers. The good news is that many of these mistakes are being caught at some point before families leave the hospital. On the other hand, there are still risks associated with these transfers that still need to be resolved.
Three Fast Facts About Baby Switching
1. During a two day stay at the hospital, babies are switched on average 6 times.
2. To prevent mistakes, hospitals are going beyond the bracelet identification system to encourage parent/child bonding so recognition can occur.
3. New bracelets are being developed that will alert hospital staff to an identification mismatch if it occurs.
Takeaway: As busy as hospitals are today, it is a testament to their skills of observation that baby switching rates are as low as they actually are. That means the stories of children growing up in the wrong family are rather rare, but they still do happen. For boys especially, if they are taken in for a circumcision, the identification tags may sometimes be removed by hospital staff to facilitate the procedure. If two boys go in around the same time, it is very possible for name tags to be removed. That’s exactly what happened to two mothers in Marion, IL in 2008.
How Rare is Rare?
1. From 1995 to 2008, only 8 occurrences of baby switching were documented in the United States.
2. There is no data regarding incidents of baby switching that occur within a hospital and then are corrected before a family leaves to go home.
3. There is no mandate for hospitals in the United States to report data about baby switching when it occurs, although the Joint Commission that monitors hospitals suggests that it be done.
4. Hospitals have been held legally responsible around the world for changes in economic circumstances that have occurred because of baby switching.
5. Some estimates say that 1 out of every 8 babies are given to the wrong parents at some point during their hospital stay, with some high capacity hospitals being closer to 1 in 4.
6. Up to 500k babies every year in the United States alone are at risk of being handed to the wrong parent, despite triple identification tags in some incidents.
7. Up to 18 babies per year are switched and sent home with the wrong families, although most of these issues are immediately corrected within a few days of the incident.
Takeaway: No system is perfect and the results of what hospital workers are doing every day to prevent baby switches is working. The unfortunate fact of life is that humanity is in itself fallible, so every system is going to be imperfect in some way. The low numbers of long-term baby switching are encouraging, but the fact that so many mistakes are occurring within the confines of the hospital itself are quite bothersome. How can over 500k babies be incorrectly given to families, even when there are so many methods of identification being used today? Other areas beyond identification should be examined, such as the length of hospital employee shifts, to help reduce these outcomes even further so that even fewer babies are switched per year.
Does Media Influence the Perception?
1. Having babies switched at birth has been a common plot device in literary fiction since the 18th century.
2. Some of the world’s most famous authors have utilized baby switching in some of their most famous works, including Mark Twain.
3. Modern television shows have utilized baby switching as a theme, including shows geared toward teens such as Veronica Mars.
4. Movies have also utilized baby switching in a variety of ways, including the unintentional switching of animals in movies like Planet of the Apes.
5. Reality shows, such as the ABC Family series Switched at Birth, also bring a light of realism to the subject for the general public.
6. Daytime dramas, more commonly known as soap operas, have regularly included this kind of plot line to introduce new characters.
7. A man in Japan who could prove he was switched at the hospital and lived a life of poverty instead of being with his rich genuine family was awarded over $370,000 in damages from suing the hospital.
Takeaway: Sensationalism tends to increase the awareness of a subject in today’s media, especially with instant access to information on the internet, and this makes problems seem like they are much greater than they really are. The seriousness of baby switching, however, cannot be denied with the emphasis that mothers breastfeed their children. The moment that a mother breastfeeds the wrong child, hepatitis and HIV testing for the child and the mother involved in the switching process must occur. Footprints, palm prints, and other forms of identification are also being used to create medical records, yet even in 2012 baby switching has occurred.
1. Modern baby switching seems to occur more frequently when hospital staff are overworked or choose not to listen to their patients.
2. Identification techniques since the 1950’s are working consistently, but parents must be vigilant to make sure that the child they bring home is their own.
3. The mistake of switching a baby is costly for all parties involved.
Takeaway: There is a good chance that there are several children out there right now who were switched when they were born, but don’t even realize it. With up to 500k switches occurring every year, the liability that hospitals face because of this incident is incredibly high. Relying on parents to identify children and then telling parents they are incorrect when a baby switch does occur does not bode well for the future of these statistics.