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Medical Science Monitor Basic Research


Parent Misidentification Leading to the Breastfeeding of the Wrong Baby in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Patient complains / malpractice

Charles W. Sauer, Krishelle L. Marc-Aurele

USA Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA

Am J Case Rep 2016; 17:574-579

DOI: 10.12659/AJCR.898864

Available online:

Published: 2016-08-12

BACKGROUND: Because there are clear benefits to breast milk over formula for infants, the goal of the World Health Organization is to increase breastfeeding rates. As more women are breastfeeding and providing breast milk to newborns in hospitals, there is increased risk for administration error.
CASE REPORT: A hospitalized preterm infant was breastfed by the wrong mother when the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse failed to properly identify the mother. An infectious disease workup done on the donor mother was negative, but the recipient infant was positive for cytomegalovirus (CMV). Since the donor mother who accidentally breastfed the wrong infant was CMV-negative, the baby in our case had likely been exposed to CMV from his biological mother. The attending physician apologized to all of the family members involved, but the father of one infant continued to express anger.
CONCLUSIONS: To our knowledge, this is the first case of accidental breastfeeding in a hospital setting to be described in the literature. Parental misidentification and a language barrier led to the error. An infectious disease workup did not find any evidence of disease transmission from this event. Increased attention to minimize breast milk errors is needed. Despite a long history of wet nursing, unregulated breast milk sharing and cross nursing is not recommended. Instead, if a mother cannot provide breast milk herself, pasteurized donor breast milk from breast milk banks is encouraged.

Keywords: Breast Feeding, Infant, Premature, Intensive Care, Neonatal, Medical Errors, Patient Identification Systems