Seven newborn babies have been handed to the wrong mothers in shocking mix-ups in the NSW health system.
The number of babies given to the wrong mothers for breastfeeding in cases of mistaken identification has reached seven in the past four years, according to a statement by the NSW Health Minister, confirming News Limited reports.
Baby breastfed by wrong mother
In November 2015, new mother Stefanie Phillips's was shocked her baby was given to the wrong mother to be breastfed. Courtesy Seven Network.
Jillian Skinner, the NSW Minister for Health, said that the occurrence was extremely rare.
"Almost 100,000 babies are born in NSW public hospitals each year and over the past five years there were seven occasions where this error occurred," she said in a statement. "The error was soon discovered."
All incidents occurred in public hospitals, according to documents released under freedom-of-information laws; the Health ministry said it had no records of mixups in private hospitals.
Walt Secord, the NSW Labor Health spokesman, obtained the figures from the department.
"As a dad, I know about the importance of the first contact between a mum and their newborn," he said. "Mixing up a baby is devastating."
A mother's breast milk contains natural antibodies that protect their newborns from disease, meaning any mix-up could deprive a child of the natural immunity if it leads to a later failure to breastfeed. Mix-ups also carry a small risk of transmission of illness and the much greater threat of psychological damage.
Mrs Skinner said strict protocols were in place to cross-check infants' identities with their mothers.
"In the rare cases where an error occurs, immediate serological tests and breast milk screening are undertaken," Mrs Skinner said. "The affected mothers are offered counselling and support."
One mother, Stefanie Phillips, was devastated after one such mix-up at Gosford Hospital late last year and said it left her unable to breastfeed her daughter.
Ms Phillips' baby daughter, Ellie, was returned to the wrong mother for breastfeeding after a period in the hospital's nursery.
"[I was told] the other mother has breastfed your daughter for two hours and got photos with her … skin-on-skin, did everything I wanted to do with her," Ms Phillips said at the time. "I was very overwhelmed, I had just become a new mum. I didn't know what to say in that situation".
That incident came just days after a similar mix-up at Royal North Shore Private Hospital. In that instance the hospital confirmed a mix-up but said it had been identified before the baby was breastfed.
Mr Secord called on the government to release details about which hospitals were involved in the mixups, something Mrs Skinner has so far refused to do.