Damaged By Accidentally Breastfeeding Someone Else’s Baby? Seriously??

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Jennifer and Scott Spiegel are suing the hospital in which Ms. Spiegel gave birth because she was accidentally brought the wrong baby to breastfeed. I haven’t found a copy of the legal Complaint seeking damages in excess of $30,000 for the couple, but in every interview with the Spiegels I can find there is no allegation that their baby was harmed in any way.

Switching babies is a serious matter. If babies are not properly identified, they can be given the wrong medication or sent home with the wrong family (lest we forget Kimberly Mays).  All the more reason for babies to be born at home whenever possible and to room-in with their mothers when they are born in hospitals. And I believe that Jennifer Spiegel

was exhausted and worried. She wondered, “Was he with someone else? Where is he?”

If someone brought me the wrong baby, I would wonder whether my baby was with someone else.  However it appears that baby Logan Spiegel was not harmed in this mix-up. Jennifer Spiegel was brought a baby other than her own son, breastfed him, the error was discovered, and Logan Spiegel (who was never nursed by anyone other than his own mother) spent the rest of the stay in his mother’s room.

So where then is the damage?

Jennifer Spiegel says her obstetrician told her there was only a slim chance of the baby or her passing each other a disease or virus.

Let’s examine that sentence for a moment. If we remove the part about her passing disease to the baby, would we still be talking about even a “slim chance”? Isn’t the “slim chance” of disease transfer from her to the baby and not from the baby to her? And she is the one suing for damages?

But wait for it. The lawsuit needs to state the damage.

Jennifer Spiegel, a first-time mother, didn’t sign up to feed another woman’s child, the lawsuit says.

I’m trusting the Chicago Sun-Times for the phrasing.  I really hope the Complaint doesn’t really refer to breastfeeding as something one “signs up for.”

What does seem clear from what is publicly available now is that this is a lawsuit about being damaged by nursing another woman’s baby.  And I find that offensive and implausible.

There was a mistake made here. One that had the potential to be quite harmful but in fact harmed no one. If there is an Illinois lawyer reading this, I would like to know what the state regulatory scheme does to hospitals that make such potentially harmful mistakes. But was Jennifer Spiegel damaged by having breastfed someone else’s child? Or was her husband Scott, who appears to be both plaintiff and plaintiff’s lawyer in this case (heads-up on that folks, when we lawyers represent ourselves it is usually because we can’t find another lawyer willing to do it)?

I’ll be watching this one.  I’m afraid this will be a sad display of greed and the mischaracterization of breastfeeding another woman’s child as traumatic.

24 comments

  • Nleeguitar February 14th, 2010 at 4:00 pm · Reply Well, I can understand being upset at nursing someone else’s brand new baby, instead of my own. That newborn period is so tender and vulnerable. The mother and son have to fall in love with each other.Still it seems like a true accident. I do have had other thoughts though.NO one is physically harmed. Maybe let people be upset and listen to their story?
  • Amber February 14th, 2010 at 4:10 pm · Reply I would find this situation very upsetting, but for the reasons you cite. Mixing up babies is a BIG deal. My first daughter was premature and spent time in the NICU, and even just a one-time mix-up would upset me substantially.But I don’t see the merit in this particular case. Demanding that they re-examine their systems to make sure that a similar mix-up doesn’t happen in the future? Totally reasonable, because this could have turned out much worse than just accidentally breastfeeding the wrong baby. Feeling betrayed and concerned about the care your child received? Also reasonable, although I do agree that whenever possible separation should be avoided and that will eliminate problems such as this. But I can’t see how I would be harmed by breastfeeding someone else’s baby – I would expect the mother of THAT baby to be more upset at this situation.
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  • Jake
    Twitter: JakeAryehMarcus
    February 14th, 2010 at 4:20 pm · Reply I agree @nleeguitar. But it doesn’t appear this lawsuit is about mom bonding (or not) to a baby. And I wonder whether an alternative remedy short of a lump sum has been considered. The news article says the hospital employee who made the mix-up apologized immediately but dad says that is not enough. I strongly suspect that there have been settlement discussions between the couple and the hospital in the two years since this happened. I don’t know what the statute of limitations is in Illinois for this kind of claim but two years sounds about right which would explain why this was filed now. My fear is this claim is couched so that breastfeeding will need to be described as a traumatic experience in itself.
  • Heather King February 14th, 2010 at 4:29 pm · Reply The nurse at the NY hospital maternity ward almost gave me my roommate’s pain pills (not even sure what they were). Can I sue, too? Of course, I didn’t take pills that weren’t mine because I try to pay attention to details when I’m in a hospital. How did these parents not pick up on the switch? Had this mom not seen her own baby yet? Were the bracelets switched? I’m sure it was an upsetting experience, but lawsuit upsetting? Nice message, too – cross nursing is so awful and traumatic it’s worth suing over. Or maybe she calculated the monetary value of her colostrum and feels like $30,000 is a fair value for a tablespoon or two.
    Heather
  • Nleeguitar February 14th, 2010 at 4:58 pm · Reply I too wondered how a new mother might not know her own baby…..then I remembered that induction and medications in labor along with epidurals and operative deliveries have a pretty power impact on mom and baby.If she was out of it with hunger and fear after an operative delivery, she might have been shown her baby and not remember.I say drop the suit, and make nice with this mother.
  • Jake
    Twitter: JakeAryehMarcus
    February 14th, 2010 at 5:20 pm · Reply After my first c/section (first baby, very traumatic birth, post-op complications) I didn’t recognize myself and most definitely felt like I might not recognize my own baby. Also with both my son and me being pumped full of drugs, we didn’t have the smells we would later recognize on each other. A few years later I nursed a baby I was going to adopt (birth mom changed her mind) who was delivered vaginally. To this day I remember what she smelled like. My second two sons weren’t given I.V.s and had distinctive smells right away (particularly their heads). My first son didn’t smell like himself until we were home a day or so.
  • Damaged By Accidentally Breastfeeding Someone Else’s Baby … « penggaram February 14th, 2010 at 6:07 pm · Reply […] Here is the original post:  Damaged By Accidentally Breastfeeding Someone Else’s Baby … […]
  • Melodie February 14th, 2010 at 8:37 pm · Reply I wonder how much time she gave herself before deciding to sue. The hormone surges a mother goes through in the early days are incredibly powerful. It’s such a vulnerable time. I’m guessing that this incident *did* upset her very much. But to go so far as to sue before taking some time to adjust to motherhood and calm down? Unfortunate. I hope she drops the case once she realizes that it was probably mostly her hormones dictating her emotions and not true intellect.
  • Crystal February 14th, 2010 at 10:33 pm · Reply I think this is a great example of why we should be putting our family’s welfare in our own hands first. But I don’t see any valid reason for a lawsuit here. This is a perfect example of what can go wrong in a hospital, but nothing actually happened. And I am also offended that nursing someone else’s baby is worth suing over. I could see it if it was the mother of the nursed baby I guess, but not this situation.
  • Jake
    Twitter: JakeAryehMarcus
    February 15th, 2010 at 5:44 am · Reply @Melodie, this incident occurred in January of 2008 so this mom has had 2 years to decide what she was going to do.
  • Michelle February 15th, 2010 at 9:03 am · Reply Posted this on facebook and twitter.TOO stupid. Why not sue cause they mixed up the babies. Coudl they not come up with anything better than this?another reason to stay home and have your baby if you ask me!
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  • Jen February 15th, 2010 at 9:20 am · Reply I could maybe see the other mom wanting to sue because her baby was taken to someone else for breastfeeding, but this is sort of ridiculous.
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  • Summer February 15th, 2010 at 2:57 pm · Reply I absolutely see her being upset, worried, and frustrated. And I would have been terrified about my own child’s safety and welfare. But damaged for nursing another baby once? Eh, not a big deal.
    Summer´s last blog ..6 Tips To Help Your Baby Sleep Better My ComLuv Profile
  • Alex a Breastfeeding Mama February 15th, 2010 at 8:39 pm · Reply I can see why she´s sueing, it was a complete violation of her body. Not by the baby, of course, but by the medical system that was responsible for her, her baby, the other mom and other baby. Every BODY deserves the respect. As a personal choice I´ve breastfed other mom´s babies in two occasion because that was my choice. It is not a matter of breastfeeding the wrong baby, it is about my body, my rights, my choices.
  • Jake
    Twitter: JakeAryehMarcus
    February 17th, 2010 at 1:14 pm · Reply @Alex, I completely agree that she has the right to choose *not* to breastfeed someone else’s baby. But in filing this lawsuit, she will have to show that she was damaged by breastfeeding this child (assuming that the Chicago paper’s characterization of her claim is correct). She will have to do more than prove she did something she would not have chosen to do.If the medical mistake had been that he was given the wrong medicine, she would have to show that she was damaged by that in a way that can be quantified and proven. Mistakes in and of themselves do not lead to money damage awards.
  • TheFeministBreeder February 17th, 2010 at 9:16 pm · Reply This kind of horrifies me. Having had a cesarean where I did not meet my baby until he was many hours old, I think already feel some permanent damage that early separation caused us. And man – if I’d gotten the wrong baby? I don’t know what kind of medication I’d need to be on right now. I don’t think I’d be suing over the breastfeeding – but I’d be filing a complaint with the state medical board, for sure. Clearly someone over there isn’t doing their job right. A baby switch is a pretty darn big deal in my book.Yeah. I’d be pretty horrified if I were that mother. Not knowing who your own baby is seems like a highly traumatic thing to me.
  • Donna March 17th, 2010 at 9:00 pm · Reply I think I’d be upset that some other baby received the immunity my baby was supposed to get. Colostrum isn’t there for long.
  • marge March 22nd, 2010 at 7:48 am · Reply It’s unfortunate that people could conclude that breastfeeding someone else’s baby is damaging but, sadly, suing is the only way to have a change to change a medical institutions. Mistakes like this are totally avoidable. Hospitals need to have and follow procedures not to mix up babies. Inadequate staffing–either too few nurses or too few STAFF nurses, nurses familiar with a particular department as opposed to agency nurses who float in and out of different hospitals–is a big reason these mistakes happen. Absent lawsuits hospitals will keep staffing short because the only people who suffer–until there’s a mistake like this–are the nurses and other staff.
  • Donna March 22nd, 2010 at 4:50 pm · Reply Babies and mothers should never be separated in the first place, except under extreme circumstances. How’s that for a simple solution?
  • Phil May 29th, 2010 at 11:22 am · Reply Being handed a different baby immediately after birth to breastfeed, in contrast to your own baby, IS potentially harmful to YOUR baby. The first breastfeed *isn’t* milk, it’s ‘colostrum’, and this does not get replenished after the first feed. This substance is scientifically proven to be extremely beneficial to a newborn baby’s wellbeing, and presumably a baby that is deprived of this substance may not prosper to the same degree. I’m not certain on the details of this case, but it would be extremely patronizing if hospital staff attempted to palm this off as a non-issue.
    • Jake
      Twitter: JakeAryehMarcus
      May 29th, 2010 at 1:44 pm · Reply Absolutely agreed. However, the mother of the child is not bringing a lawsuit. The lawsuit is being brought by the women who nursed the wrong child, not the mother whose child was nursed (or, also appropriately, someone on behalf of the child who was nursed by someone who was not his mother). The possible damage to a nursing relationship seems to me to have occurred to the relationship between the child who was nursed and his birth mother. In this lawsuit, a woman is claiming she was damaged by the act of nursing a child she didn’t give birth to.
  • Nleeguitar May 29th, 2010 at 4:26 pm · Reply Point of information:Colostrum, or newborn milk, is plentiful. The breasts start producing this under the influence of placental hormones somewhere around the time that the mother first feels her baby move. This milk continues to be made for at least 48 hours after birth; the more that is removed, the more that is made.How do we know the woman suing isn’t just looking for a way to collect some money?
    • Jake
      Twitter: JakeAryehMarcus
      May 29th, 2010 at 4:46 pm · Reply We don’t, Nikki, and that may well be the motivation.
  • Breastfeeding Info June 23rd, 2010 at 5:44 am · Reply I really can’t understand why would anyone sue someone else for this. I really can’t see any damage here. But it’s in people’s nature to do things that are not to be considered normal nowadays.
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