After news broke last week of a Vietnamese mother and daughter who were found to be unrelated after four decades, hospitals in Vietnam have taken new measures to prevent similar cases from happening.
A 64-year-old mother appeared in Vietnamese newspapers on March 10, calling for help to look for her long lost daughter of 42 years, after finding out that the girl she had been raising is not biologically hers. The mother’s doubts about a biological relationship with her daughter first arose when she realized the number written in ink on the baby’s wristband did not match hers, though the nurse that cared for her insisted otherwise, claiming water must have blurred the number. While she took the baby home and loved her as her own, her suspicion grew over the years, as the little girl grew up without any physical resemblance to family members.
When her daughter was 22, a DNA test confirmed suspicions of a baby swap, but the mother kept the secret to herself until recently.
The mother (sitting) and her mistaken daughter (first right, second row) in an old family photo. Photo: Tuoi Tre
According to Ly Bach Thu Nga, deputy head of the nursing room at Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, obstetric wards at every medical facility have their own procedures for tracking newborns during the time between their birth and when they are handed back to their parents.
These procedures are under constant scrutiny to avoid any chance of deliberate or accidental baby-swapping.
When patients are admitted to Tu Du Hospital for labor, Nga said, the mother is asked to fill out a form with her personal information which is used by staff to prepare a wristband containing her name, age, and admission number.
The staff then asks the mother to check the written information on the wristband for any error before securing it on her wrist.
Once in the delivering room, the mother is again asked by the medical assistant to double-check all the information one final time before entering labor.
Additionally, a strip of medical tape featuring the same information is attached to the mother’s arm in order to later be stuck on the newborn’s chest in case of caesarean delivery.
Vu Ba Quyet, director at the National Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said his hospital had been using similar methods for many years, and for the last four years has been using a new type of plastic band which is extremely hard to cut or remove.
Even with these procedures in place, some mothers prefer taking matters into their own hands by marking their newborn babies with lipsticks and tapes.
'Skin to skin' contact
Tu Du Hospital has implemented the 'skin to skin' method immediately after birth to improve babies’ health and minimize the risk of mismatching mother and child.
Healthy newborns are left with their navel strings intact, cleaned, and then placed on their mother’s naked belly, where they stay until the mother is moved from the delivery room.
An untearable band containing their mother’s name, age, gender, birth weight, and date of admission is also worn on the baby’s wrist.
Additionally, a skin-safe ink is used to write the information on the baby’s leg.
In cases where the baby is too weak to use the 'skin to skin' method and needs to be taken to the neonatal unit, relatives are called upon to identify any distinguishing feature before the neonate is taken away.
Before leaving the hospital, the mother and child must go through a final check by security in order to prevent kidnapping.
Speaking with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper regarding whether or not there should be a uniform procedure for neonatal handling across the country, Nguyen Duc Vinh, director at the Department of Maternal Health and Children under the Ministry of Health, said that such a proposal would be impossible, considering that each hospital’s condition is different.
“The responsibility to outline such procedures rests on the hospital’s director,” Vinh said. "The ministry only regulates the professional matters, such as midwifery or neonatal sanitization.”