Right baby, wrong mother. Or right mother, wrong baby

Nurses, apparently, at Abbott Northwestern hospital gave the wrong newborn baby to a mother yesterday, the Star Tribune reports, and the woman breast-fed the baby before someone figured it out.

“As far as we know, this has never happened before at Abbott,” Gloria O’Connell, a spokeswoman, tells the Strib, while insisting there will be consequences.

That leads to the obvious question (besides “how”): How often does this happen?

In fact, it’s not hard at all to find nearly identical stories from around the country and the cause is usually the same: Someone didn’t do what someone should’ve done.

No big deal, though, right? Just switch them back.

But it is more complicated than that, and the concern many parents have is that by breast-feeding the wrong baby, a person may transfer illnesses. The Washington Post identified the problem in a story two years ago, in which parents feared their child might contract HIV from the “wrong mother.”

The incidents also point to a larger problem of accurate patient identification — a major cause of health-care errors. That is a particular risk with newborns, and experts say sleep-deprived mothers are sometimes confused: It can be hard to recognize a swaddled infant brought by the nursing staff for feeding in the middle of the night.

For the past few months, the Libbys say, they have asked hospital officials to put in writing the verbal assurances they were given. They want a list of tests and results, including a toxicology screening, that were performed on the woman who breast-fed their baby. The hospital has not provided them.