Not one, but two confirmed cases of infants switched and sent home with the wrong family. It sounds like a storyline to be found in Hollywood or on daytime TV, not on the evening news. Yet in August 2016, two men, Leon Swanson and David Tait Jr., held a press conference revealing that DNA testing had confirmed what had long been a joke in their community; they had indeed been switched at birth. They are the second such case out of the same, remote, Manitoba hospital in 1975.
The circumstances that allowed for the switch to occur are unlikely to be repeated today. It has been alleged that Norway House, the small hospital where the men were born, was chronically understaffed and poorly equipped.
Although many parents today fear taking home the wrong baby, it is thankfully an unfounded fear. In reality, it is exceedingly rare for infants to be switched in the hospital and it becomes even more rare as time goes on. Extensive measures have been put in place in modern hospitals in order to prevent such mix-ups.
Modern-day hospital measures are in place
Staffing levels have been increased and are drastically improved. The standard of care for births is one nurse to a patient. Once baby is born and the family is moved to the postpartum ward, there is usually one nurse per five patients. While under-staffing does occur, it is not to the extent of the past. With such dedicated staffing families can build a rapport with their nursing team and be more involved in the conversations and care they receive.
The most effective tool to prevent babies being given to the wrong family is the elimination of nurseries in many hospitals.
Some hospitals have even begun to take fingerprints or foot prints from each baby for their files. This is another level to a system of checks and balances, which prevents mix-ups. Although not as common in Canada, parents can order their own kit and take prints themselves.
Each infant also wears a hospital bracelet with the birthing mother's name and hospital ID number written on it. Although bracelets were also used historically, using the parent's name and hospital number is a newer approach to reduce confusion over names and spellings. In an increasingly diverse country where families are drawing on many different cultures and languages to name their children, this is especially relevant, as the infant's name does not go on the hospital band at all.
Finally, the most effective tool to prevent babies being given to the wrong family is the elimination of nurseries in many hospitals. With 'rooming-in' being the standard policy in most Canadian hospitals, infants never leave their parents. All newborn procedures such as weight checks, measurements, first baths, and examinations are done under the watchful eyes of doting parents. Many hospitals encourage a support person to remain overnight with the mother and baby so that there are two adults with the infant during the night.
In the event that a baby needs to be taken to a special care nursery, or the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the hospital bracelet becomes even more important as it is checked at each stage of the transfer. Nurses will confirm the bracelet name and number with the parents or paperwork before leaving the birthing room, and they will be checked again once the infant arrives in the NICU and is transferred to that care team. The bracelet is then checked and confirmed before each treatment is performed, just as medical staff would check an adult's identity before performing any medical procedures.
Even pumped breast milk stored at the NICU for a baby is labelled with the same information and the hospital bracelet and milk label are compared and confirmed before feeding the baby the breast milk.
What happened in Manitoba in 1975 is tragic. Regardless of the happiness and health of homes, at least four families are forever altered because of the mistakes that occurred. Thankfully hospital procedure has evolved so that this is one fear new parents can leave to Hollywood.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost:
The world’s second smallest country is also one of the richest, with more millionaires and billionaires per capita than any other country in the world. It also seems like a dream to give birth in Monaco: The antenatal and postpartum care sounds downright magical, and the country has some of the lowest infant mortality rates on earth. So what gives on the low birth rate, at just 6.72 births per 1,000 people? One theory is that the population is considerably older than the global median, which means lower fertility rates. Couple advanced age with the higher education typical of the people of Monaco, and you’re looking at fewer babies for this densely populated nation.
The declining birth rate in Japan, at 8.4 births per 1,000 people, is actually cause for alarm: The country’s population has dropped by nearly a million people over the past five years, when you compare the low birth rate with the high death rate. This is such an appalling stat that the Japanese government is taking measures to bolster their population in years to come, including major changes to their policies affecting women, children and seniors. Other reasons for the decline include the climbing cost of raising a family, the number of women in the workforce and the older average age of marriage.
Just 8.2 babies were born per 1,000 people over the past five years in this European nation, putting it neck and neck with Japan. Experts are conflicted as to why the birth rate is dropping, but myriad theories include more women focusing on career before family, the trend toward later-in-life childbearing, difficulty accessing child care, and confusing social policies as reasons for the downturn.
Declining birth rates are actually a concern across Asia but South Korea, with a birth rate of 8.55 births per 1,000 people and its steep decline of people under the age of 40, is in danger of becoming one of the oldest countries, population-wise, in the world. Like other countries, extreme work culture and more women in the labour force are to blame, but lack of immigration is also a factor. Other countries can supplement low birth rates with immigration, but South Korea is notoriously difficult when it comes to permitting naturalized citizens.
At just 8 births per 1,000 people, Italy is in a population collapse. There were just 488,000 births in the country in 2015, which is lower than any year since the modern state was founded in 1861. Officials are keeping close tabs on the situation and are offering up potential benefits for growing families. The policy changes include a baby bonus (which was not well-received, for its small amount and the limited number of kids it covers) and a national Fertility Day campaign urging young women to listen to their biological clocks, and young men to avoid smoking for the health of their sperm. Italy’s declining population can be chalked up to high unemployment numbers, lower wages for women, and inadequate childcare and social services.
Follow Meaghan Grant on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TOFamilyDoulas