Mother's torment after breast-milk inadvertently switched
AN AUSTRALIAN mother has described her anxious wait for test results after her newborn baby was fed another mother's breastmilk by mistake by a staff member at a private hospital.
The baby girl was born on May 5 at Hurstville Private Hospital, in Sydney's south, when four days later, on May 9, a staff member at the hospital accidentally switched her mother's breastmilk and fed her someone else's.
"After paying thousands of dollars for private care, you expect more," the mother, identified as Melissa, told news.com.au.
Melissa said she has gone public with her story "so others can be aware of the possibilities of medical mistakes and be more vigilant themselves and not always trust your caregivers".
She said she was particularly anxious because breastmilk can carry diseases such as HIV, which is why donated milk is usually screened.
Melissa was forced to spend extra time in the hospital because her daughter was suffering from jaundice, a liver condition that causes yellowing of a newborn baby's skin and eyes.
"The way you get them to pass that is to get them to drink (extra fluids) and because she couldn't drink directly off me they made me use a breast pump in hospital to express," Melissa explained.
The baby would be fed through a bottle because "she could feed better that way" and it was "the only way we could get her to drink or feed".
The milk was transferred into a bottle, labelled, and stored for later use.
Melissa would then contact the midwives' when the baby was ready for a feed and they would collect the breast milk and pass on to the mother.
"They never told me where they were storing it, how they were storing it, they just collected it and when I needed it they'd go and get it for me and bring it back," she explained.
On May 9, four days after the birth, Melissa was none the wise her baby was being fed another mother's breastmilk.
"I was in my room and I was changing a nappy and the nurse came and give me milk, she had it all ready in a bottle ready to feed.
"We gave it to her [the baby], then I stopped halfway in between the bottle to burp her and that's when I saw on the label, there was a different obstetrician's name.
"I was like, 'wait a minute, that's not my doctor's name', and that's when I looked at the label further and saw that it was for a different person, different address, different name, wasn't mine.
"I tried to get someone to come back into the room and when I finally got the nurse to come back I told her, 'that's not mine'.
"She went, 'oops' - and tries to take it away and leave. I said, 'well no, not oops, she's actually drank some of this, what do we do now'?
"I just don't know how someone can go to the fridge and not even check the label and then give it to someone."
"When they gave us the wrong milk there was nothing for us to look at and go, 'oh that's not ours'.
"Everything looked the same, it was given to us and told it was ours."
Melissa said the staff around her "didn't seem to know what to do" but assured her that her baby would be fine.
Human breast milk contains antibodies that can help prevent illness. But there is controversy around the idea of mothers 'sharing' unscreened breast milk because of the risk that it could transmit infectious diseases - such as hepatitis B and C, and HIV - or bacteria from improper collection.
Melissa says was not able to talk personally with the mother whose breastmilk was switched, and she was alerted by staff that the mother would be tested for any diseases her baby could have picked up.
Despite being assured the results would take two days, she waited a week for initial results and a further two more weeks for secondary test results.
"Part of the reason why I was so upset was not only the mistake that happened but after I left hospital the way that it was handled was very poor and I was constantly having to chase the hospital for updates," Melissa said.
Eventually, all test results, including hepatitis C, B and HIV, came back negative.
News.com.au contacted the hospital, but they declined to comment specifically about the incident in question.
"First and foremost, the safety and privacy of our patients is paramount," a statement from Hurstville Private hospital to news.com.au read.
"We pride ourselves on our commitment to putting our patients first, and to ensuring that all patients at Hurstville Private Hospital are treated with respect.
"Because of Privacy requirements we cannot comment on any specific patient matters at the hospital.
"The hospital does have set protocols and regulatory requirements relating to the identification and dissemination of breastmilk.
We are working with all of our staff to ensure these procedures are followed at all times."
News.com.au has seen correspondence between Melissa and the hospital which claims after an internal investigation, "our staff member did not follow hospital policy and procedure".
"The hospital has began to address these breaches in practice, so this incident will not occur again."
When approached by news.com.au the hospital did not offer any further information.
NSW Health would not comment on the matter because it was "not a NSW Health facility".
A spokesman for the Health Care Complaints Commission told news.com.au "the Commission would be an avenue for the mother to pursue her concerns"
The HCCC told news.com.au Melissa would need to make a complaint to the Commission directly, which must be done in writing."
But Melissa doesn't feel that is enough.
"I understand that some mothers do share breastmilk but it's a mutual agreement and there is permission given, so while some people think that it's OK, it's something I would never do. Their needs to be permission.
"I can't imagine what the other mother thinks. It's not just about me, it's about what happened to her as well. It was probably pretty weird for her.
"If there came a time when I couldn't breastfeed, I would formula feed. To me, the risk is just not worth it.
"You just don't expect this sort of thing would happen, especially in a private hospital where it costs a lot of money."
The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies to six months of age, and for breastfeeding to continue alongside suitable solid foods for up to two years and beyond.
But Australian breastfeeding statistics indicate we are falling well short of that recommendations. Statistics from the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey indicate that 96 per cent of mothers initiate breastfeeding. After that exclusive breastfeeding rates drop off. Just 39 per cent of babies are still being exclusively breastfed to three months and less than one quarter to five months.
With some mothers struggling to provide enough breastmilk for their baby, the option to use donor milk is now available.
The NSW leg of the network Human Milk 4 Babies has more than 3300 likes, while Queensland and Victoria have more than 7000 combined.
But Australian Medical Association WA president Michael Gannon told Fairfax last year that in most cases, using formula was a "safer option".
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