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Mom Sues Hospital After Stranger Breastfed Her Baby in Mix-Up

Photograph by Star Tribune

When Tammy Van Dyke gave birth to Cody in December 2012, the unthinkable happened. Abbot Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis unknowingly switched her newborn with another mom’s twin son. To make matters worse, Cody was breastfed by the other mom.

"In good faith, you drop your child off at the hospital nursery with the nurses," Van Dyke told KSTP-TV. "Never in a million years would you think this could happen or would happen."

Needless to say, the Apple Valley, Minnesota mom of two is upset and is suing the the hospital for damages. According to the lawsuit, both moms underwent testing.

Cody got tested for HIV and hepatitis to make sure he was OK (which he is). The tests must be repeated every three months for a year. "It was horrible," Van Dyke said. "Two nurses had to go in through veins in his tiny little arms."

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says HIV and other serious infectious diseases can be transmitted through breast milk, "but the risk of infection from a single bottle of breast milk, even if the mother is HIV positive, is extremely small."

Van Dyke also said that the other mom involved in the baby switch is just as upset, and had to wait almost a half hour to be reunited with her baby.

Now the million dollar question: How did the mix-up happen in the first place? The hospital’s operator, Allina Health System, said that hospital staff members were required to check matching ID bands of both mother and baby. Unfortunately, the procedure wasn’t followed correctly, which led to the baby being placed in the wrong bassinet.

The hospital has since sent Van Dyke an apology and put a new electronic procedure in place to prevent mistakes like this from happening again.

Despite their efforts, Van Dyke is still seeking more than $50,000 in damages. She says that the mistake caused "unnecessary medical treatment, tests and expenses, and severe mental injury and emotional pain and suffering."

Believe it or not, Van Dyke's experience is more common than you might think. According to a case report published August 2016 from University of California, San Diego's Department of Pediatrics, "With the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative launched by the World Health Organization in 1991, more women are breastfeeding and providing breast milk to their newborn infants. As these rates increase, the opportunities for errors in breast milk administration also increase."

A 35-bed children's hospital NICU estimated that about one in every 10,000 babies are given the wrong breast milk. Another from a 42-bed NICU concluded there were 80 breast milk errors over 10 years.

Another mom also suffered from the “suckling switcheroo” in 2008. A hospital worker at The Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill accidentally placed Lynda Williams’ daughter, Jalyn, in the wrong bassinet. Jaylyn was later given to the wrong mom, who nursed her for a short time.

"They screwed up and I'm angry," Williams said. "I wondered if [Jalyn] was my baby."

According to the NY Daily News a state Supreme Court judge green-lighted Williams' suit against the hospital, but a four-judge appellate panel reversed the decision, saying Williams had no case "for any mental distress or emotional disturbances they may have suffered as a result of the alleged direct injury inflicted upon the infant."

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Whether or not this is worth suing over has gotten mothers and medical professionals talking. It's not unusual for a baby to receive breast milk from a wet nurse—though, in the past, wet nurses were usually peasant women and slaves. Today, babies are also sometimes given donated breast milk from a milk bank, and it's not unheard of for moms to ask a friend or relative to do the honors.

Another mom, Elisa Albert, wasn’t able to breastfeed her baby and her friend Miranda stepped up to the plate to assist. In addition to having a low milk supply, she said her week-and a-half-old baby began to lose weight because he had trouble latching on. The new mom wrote about having difficulties breastfeeding in The Guardian.

But having milk banks and willing parties is one thing. There’s no excuse when it comes to moms who didn't know what they were in for.

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