Parents who say a maternity-ward nurse brought the mother the wrong infant to breastfeed — and that nobody realized there was a mixup until 20 minutes of feeding had gone by — are suing the hospital.
“It should be inconceivable that something like this could happen. It’s not a simple error,” David Richman, father of 4-month-old Scarlet and husband of Melissa Richman, told NBC 4 New York.
The switch occurred when Melissa, 39, of Ridgewood, N.J., requested she receive her newborn for breastfeeding during her stay at her town’s Valley Hospital. The infant latched and suckled, but nearly half an hour in, Melissa told the news station, a nurse burst in. “She actually said, ‘There was a terrible mistake. This is not your baby,’” she recalled. “Nobody ever checked [the wristbands].”
Melissa, who has two other children, further claims that nursing the other baby — whose identity they do not know — wiped her out of colostrum, the early nutrient-rich breast milk that’s so important for newborns. “I had just nursed this other baby for 20 minutes, so I was probably totally depleted. … [Scarlet] was frustrated and upset because there was really nothing left for her,” she said.
Maureen Curran, a spokeswoman for the hospital, did not return a call from Yahoo Beauty seeking information about the ID-bracelet system in place there. She also declined to comment to NBC, the news report said.
The Richmans are now suing the hospital, according to their attorney, Rosemarie Arnold. While Arnold did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo Beauty, she told the news station, incredulously, “They gave her someone else’s child. She breastfed this child for 20 minutes before anyone realized what happened.”
Leigh Anne O’Connor, a New York City-based board certified lactation consultant with 20 years of experience, tells Yahoo Beauty, “Generally, that the mixup occurred is bad on the part of the hospital.” However, notes O’Connor, who is past president of the New York Lactation Consultant Association, “colostrum does not run out; it keeps coming … keeps replenishing. When the baby is born, it keeps coming and kind of morphs into mature milk. It is basically endless. And while the first feeding is important, missing it will not ruin bonding. … Unless the parties involved are very sick, it is unlikely to cause any long-term damage.”
Still, it is upsetting for the families involved, although these incidents seem to be rare. Anecdotal reports of babies being briefly and accidentally switched in hospitals pop up occasionally; similar stories include an incident in Minneapolis in 2012, which led to a $50,000 lawsuit in 2016 that is still pending, and another in Houston in 2014, which led to the firing of a nurse.
Actual statistics are hard to come by. Steve Kaufer, a California-based hospital security expert, had researched the frequency of both baby abductions and temporary in-hospital baby switcheroos about a decade ago, finding that brief mixups had occurred in U.S. hospitals at a frequency of about one in 1,000. “But hospitals have really improved their procedures,” Kaufer tells Yahoo Beauty — particularly when it comes to preventing abductions from hospitals, owing to the widespread use of electronic tracking hardware.
Regarding in-hospital tracking, though, most hospitals rely on tagging the infant and the parents, and staffers are supposed to always ensure that the bands match. “They’re supposed to check, just like when they administer medicine, but sometimes there’s a human-error element, and they fail to do that,” he says, “which is of course very traumatic for everyone involved.”
That was certainly the reaction for one New York City mom who experienced a similar mixup when her baby was born in Manhattan’s Lenox Hill Hospital in February 2015.
“It definitely played a role in my recovery. It was a traumatic experience,” the mom, who did not want her name used for this story, recalls for Yahoo Beauty. She says she was awakened in the wee hours of the morning to breastfeed her son, and that she tried to get the baby to latch. But before the screaming infant could do so, her husband noticed that the bassinet was festooned with pink, telling her, “That’s not our baby.”
Regarding its hospital’s practices, a Lenox Hill spokesperson tells Yahoo Beauty the following: “Lenox Hill Hospital is dedicated to ensuring patient safety through correct patient identification for every patient at every encounter in our hospital. All newborn infants receive two identification bands at the time of delivery that are placed on their wrist and ankle. The mother and baby wear matching bands. Anytime a newborn is brought to the mother’s room our staff compares both the mother and newborn ID bands checking the mother’s medical record number, the newborn’s date of birth and the unique pre-printed band number. Each infant also has a security band applied in Labor and Delivery that will set off an alarm if the infant is taken out of our locked maternity area.”
Still, while the entire incident lasted five minutes, the NYC mother says, the psychological fallout stayed with her.
“In the moment of it, all I was worried about was the other woman,” she notes. “Now I 100 percent think it had a huge emotional effect on me. I definitely was weepy and had a hard time breastfeeding, I got mastitis right away, and I think it had a lot to do with [the incident]. It happened the day we were leaving, and so that memory — of bringing our baby home — is now clouded.”
Now Melissa and David Richman, who likely feel the same, are seeking justice through the court system.