Stefanie Phillips gave birth alongside another woman in a shared hospital room in Gosford Hospital in New South Wales, Australia. When it was time for her newborn daughter Ellie to eat, a nurse brought her to her mother's room — and handed her to the other mother, who promptly breastfed a stranger's baby.
Phillips was devastated to learn that the other woman fed her daughter for two hours, took lots of photos and got to experience a moment Phillips never will. On top of all that, now that Phillips and Ellie are safely back at home, Ellie won't take her mother's breast at all, and Phillips has had to bottle-feed her instead.
It's a situation that is hard to fathom. It's fortunate that blood tests showed no physical harm was done to Ellie in getting someone else's breast milk and that the mothers, at the very least, did not go home with the wrong babies. But who could blame Phillips for being upset over the switch? Any parent can understand how important those special landmark moments are and how devastating it would be to have them undermined by a mistake that never should have been made.
It's an oversight that's so elementary it's infuriating in and of itself; staff simply didn't cross-check Ellie's wristband with the woman who was feeding her. A few extra seconds of vigilance could have prevented this from happening. New moms are in a strange place those first few hours, days and months; we all live in a fog of exhaustion, rampaging hormones and the unrelenting, overwhelming feeling of being responsible for a whole other human being. That's why we rely so heavily on hospital staff to give us a leg up when we're recovering from birth and to, you know, hand us the right baby to feed.
With that said, humans are fallible. New moms, especially, are fallible. A lot of people will look at a story like this and heap blame on the woman who breastfed a baby that wasn't hers. After all, how could she not know, right?
Well, most of us wouldn't recognize our own faces a few hours after birth, and while maternal instinct is a powerful thing, it has its limits too. Add that to the fact that many women feel uncomfortable speaking up and are condescended to when they do, and you've got a recipe for exactly this situation.
So what do you do? Well, in the U.S., where most hospital rooms are private, there's less of a chance for mix-ups like this to happen, but it's important to be vigilant anyway. Even without panicking, it does no harm to give your maternal instincts a little bit of a safety net. When someone brings you your new baby for the first time, when you're in the middle of checking all those fingers and toes and counting each and every hair, take a few extra seconds to glance at their wristband. Don't leave it to the nurses. Make sure that everything matches up and checks out.
It might seem silly, but it could prevent a whole lot of heartache.
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