When you had your baby, did you arrive at the hospital bearing a list of possible names as long as your arm? Or was your precious bundle named the second you learned his or her gender at the second-trimester ultrasound?
For many, it’s the former – or at least, they have a couple of options up their sleeve to match to the baby’s personality once he or she is born.
But research out of the United States may have parents rethinking that. It suggests that waiting too long to name a baby – and that’s basically any time after the first couple of minutes – may actually put the infant at risk of medical errors.
That’s because hospitals have to place an identification bracelet on the baby as soon as possible after birth. When babies are not named immediately, most US maternity wards use a generic moniker based on the mum’s last name, such as Baby Rose or Babygirl Rose.
The newborn is entered into the hospital system with that name, and it usually stays like that until discharge, says the report in the journal Pediatrics.
The problem is that many surnames are fairly common – increasing the risk that two or more babies in the unit may end up with the same generic moniker. And this can backfire when, for example, one of the babies needs medicine. It also has the potential for serious issues when infants stay in neonatal intensive care units or the nursery.
Montefiore Health System patient safety officer and study co-author Jason Adelman tells NPR that neonatologists “know this is a problem, but weren’t able to quantify it”.
Dr Adelman and his team devised a new hospital naming convention that uses both the mum’s first and last names. Instead of Baby Rose or Babygirl Rose, it would be Michellesgirl Rose. For twins, it would be 1Michellesgirl Rose and 2Michellesgirl Rose.
Researchers then analysed how often doctors ordered tests, procedures or drugs for one baby, but then quickly retracted it and placed the same order for a different infant. This would be a potential indicator of a mix-up. They compared the number of “retract and reorder” events in the 12 months before and after the new naming system was introduced, and found a 36 per cent drop because of it.
The researchers say while the result isn’t proof their naming convention is better, it may encourage some hospitals to consider adopting it.
“The way we name babies in the hospital has to really be thought of very carefully,” Texas Children’s Newborn Center neonatologist Gautham Suresh tells NPR.
While rare, baby mix-ups can happen at Australian hospitals. Earlier this year, it emerged a newborn had been taken to the wrong mother at a Melbourne private hospital’s maternity unit.