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Baby Breastfed by Wrong Mom in Hospital: Simple Mistake or "Horrid Discovery?"

Imagine walking, groggy, just after a nap, to the hospital’s nursery in order to retrieve your newborn baby for a feeding, only to discover that he’s gone missing.  Any mother would panic for a second, but surely there would be some logical explanation.  In Suzanne Libby’s case, there was: her son had been taken to another woman’s room to be breastfed.

The Washington Post published a lengthy article about Libby’s ordeal in today’s paper, citing all sort of facts about how frequently these types of hospital errors occur.  The most important one?  That “it’s impossible to know how often breastfeeding mix-ups happen, because many states do not require hospitals to report them unless there is serious harm.”  Eight similar incidents have gone on record in recent years, none of them resulting in harm to the babies involved.  The Post reports that the woman who breastfed the Libbys’ son was tested for and “did not have HIV or hepatitis B or C, diseases that can be passed to a baby through breast milk.”

Though the Libbys were sent a letter (upon request) indicating the same results, they want to see “a list of tests and results, including a toxicology screening, that were performed on the woman who breast-fed their baby.”  According to the Post, “The Libbys are looking into legal options.”

Isn’t that going a bit overboard?

I understand your grief, Mrs. Libby, when you say, “I know it wasn’t my fault, but I feel like the first 24 hours of my baby’s life, I failed to protect him.  There was a period of time where I don’t know whose care he was in. . . . And every time I think about his birth, this is what I think about.”  Undoubtedly.  One of the hardest things to accept about parenting is that we cannot ever fully protect our children from harm, but that’s a feeling you’ll have to get used to.  The good news is, your son was unharmed!  Why not focus on moving forward and enjoying your perfectly healthy son?  I say this with love as a fellow high-strung gal who knows how hard it can be to get over trauma, but this was a very isolated, very brief incident.  Pursuing a lawsuit will only prolong your pain by keeping your head stuck in that place in time.

In her description of this misadventure, Libby said, “to find that another mother breast-fed him, without my knowledge, without my consent, was horrid. . . . He was exposed to someone else’s body fluid.”  If you’re concerned about preventing your son from being exposed to other people’s fluids, don’t let him kiss anyone and definitely don’t let him swim in a public pool.  Not to make light of what could have been a serious situation, but it seems to me that Libby is the same type of tightly-wound Alpha Mom who would be the first to buy breastmilk online or let a friend serve as a wet nurse if she had trouble producing her own supply.  Also, let me just reiterate: her baby is completely fine.

Of course, this baby switch-a-roo is something the hospital should take very seriously, as incidents like this “point to a larger problem of accurate patient identification — a major cause of health-care errors.”  Medical malpractice can be deadly; a friend of a friend was killed when a doctor injected the wrong fluid into her bloodstream.  But it seems Virginia Hospital Center has reacted appropriately, firing the employee involved for neglecting to “follow standard protocol,” taking “the necessary steps to ensure that this situation does not happen again.”

I can certainly sympathize with an initially horrified reaction to the situation, but I don’t understand what’s to be gained from a lawsuit, except maybe money for pain and suffering?  (College fund!)  What do you think?  Would you let it go or sue?

Photo: Raphael Goetter via Flickr

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