Identification Techniques for Preventing Infant Mix-Ups
Infant mix-ups in hospitals could happen any day. Steve Kaufer from Inter/Action Associates, a Las Vegas security consulting firm, estimates that 1 out of every 1,000 infants is switched in hospitals. The firm interviewed more than 400 maternity ward employees across the U.S. for a study on baby switching and found that the opportunity exists in hospitals for mixing up babies, especially during the routine transfer of the baby immediately after birth: The baby is initially transferred to the mother, then to the bassinet, to the nursery, and then back to the mother1.
A new mother may worry about a mix-up occurring when she delivers. If a question arises about the baby's identity, the most reliable way to be sure he or she hasn't been switched in the hospital is for the mother and child to undergo a maternity DNA test.
Newborn identification varies from hospital to hospital, but one of the most prevalent methods is the use of corresponding ID bracelets between mothers and their babies. These tags typically list the patients' names and a matching code between the two (for example, if the mother's code is "1234," her child's code will be "1234"). Some of these bracelets even contain RFID tags so the hospital staff can electronically verify the mother-child relationship.
Despite advancements in ID tag technology, infant-mother mix-ups occur more than 23,000 times each year. Dalton, et al.2 (PDF), identified human error as the leading cause of these mix-ups, often due to:
• Misreading infant or mother bracelet information
• Bracelets falling off the infants' ankles or wrists, which is particularly common in newborns, whose arms and legs may shrink after birth due to water loss
• Bed mix-ups, in which a child is removed for bathing or treatment and then returned to the wrong bed
• Mix-ups of babies with similar or identical names
• Misreading of sequential names or ID numbers
• Inadequate physical security mechanisms
• Parents who are not fluent in the staff's native language
Hospitals also employ footprinting and/or fingerprinting of the infant at birth for identification. This interpretive technology has also improved over the last 80 years, but inconsistencies–and thus opportunities for infant-mother mix-ups–remain. Footprinting and fingerprinting require consistent and careful procedures, and if a staff member is not highly experienced in these techniques, the chance of less complete and clear footprints and fingerprints is greater.
In light of some of the shortcomings these forms of identification may have, maternity DNA testing is becoming more popular when doubt arises. Maternity DNA tests compare the genetic information of the mother with the child to identify matches. Because the DNA of a child comes directly from his or her parents, half of the DNA should match the mother's DNA. DNA samples are painlessly collected through buccal swabs–the process of rubbing the inside of one's cheeks to pick up cheek (buccal) cells that contain DNA–and submitted to a laboratory for analysis. In as little as a day, the laboratory can determine if the child and mother are biologically related.
Pg. 1 >> Newborn Identification
Pg. 2 >> Hospital Security Measures to Prevent Baby Swaps
Pg. 3 >> A Case of Infant-Mother Mix-Up
2. Dalton, J., Kim, I., and Lim, B. (2005). RFID Technologies in Neonatal Care.
White Paper by Intel Corporation, LG CNS, ECO Inc and WonJu Christian Hospital. Internet source (PDF).