Switched-at-birth baby breastfed by wrong mother at hospital

Lia Grainger
Shine OnDecember 10, 2012

It seems more like a soap opera plot device than something worth worrying about: newborn babies accidentally switched at the hospital.

Yet the staff at a Minneapolis hospital recently made such an error and gave a newborn to the wrong mother to be breastfed, a mistake that means the child will need HIV and hepatitis tests every three months for a year.

Tammy Van Dyke's newborn son Cody was placed in the wrong bassinet at Abbott Northwest Hospital on Wednesday. Van Dyke found out about the switch about two hours after it had happened, reports ABC News.

Also see: Top Canadian baby names for 2012: William and Maya

Cody was immediately tested for HIV and hepatitis. Both tests came back negative, but as a precaution he will have to be tested every three months for a year.

"It was horrible," Van Dyke tells ABC News. "Two nurses had to go in through veins in his tiny little arms."

Van Dyke was able to meet the woman who accidentally breastfed her son. The other mother had given birth to twins, and waited 20 minutes for her baby to be found and returned to her.

Though Van Dyke's story seems like every new mom's worst nightmare, things could actually have been worse. Though it happens more often in fiction than in reality, babies are occasionally switched at birth, without anyone noticing the mistake.

One of the most notorious switch stories is that of Mary Miller and Kay McDonald, two women from Wisconsin whose babies were accidentally switched in hospital in 1951. What makes the tale especially remarkable is that the two women knew each other, and that Miller believed the switch had taken place, but didn't pursue her suspicions until 43 years later, reports This American Life.

Also see: The rise of politically correct dolls: Hearing aids, bald heads and allergy-free lunches

The only Canadian switch to make headlines didn't occur in the hospital, but in at a foster home in 1971.

Twins Marcus and George Holmes were placed in an Ottawa foster home together when their mother was unable to care for them. Two months later, she asked for them back, and two boys were delivered. What she did not know was that the son believed to be Marcus was actually someone else's child, and that the real Marcus was being raised by another couple as Brent Tremblay in Orleans, Ontario. It wasn't until 1992, when George and Brent accidentally became friends while attending Carleton University that the secret was revealed.

Fortunately, switch stories are rare thanks to a range of precautionary measures employed by hospitals to preventsuch a nightmare scenario. The most common method involves placing matching wristbands on the mother and child immediately after the baby is born. Some hospitals also take a fingerprint of the mother and a footprint of the baby.

In a 2009 report, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police discussed using centrally monitored security tags on newborns in hospitals to prevent newborn abduction, a whole other nightmare scenario that actually happens from time to time in Canada.

As for Van Dyke, she's just glad to have the right baby home, and is looking forward to finishing up the last tests and putting the whole ordeal behind her.

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