New-born babies in Nazareth maternity ward
New-born babies in Nazareth maternity ward Flash90

Last Sunday afternoon, a Jewish mother who had just given birth to a boy in Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem left her room to take her son from the ward's nursery. Upon arrival, however, she discovered her son's bassinet was empty.

Shocked and frightened, the Jewish mother alerted those around her and together they began to search the ward for her baby.

Without informing the mother, Shaare Zedek staff began looking into the possibility that the baby had been kidnapped or switched by someone with another mother's baby and taken off hospital premises.

After half an hour of relentless searching, the mother finally found her son in the arms of an Arab woman. The Arab woman, who had also given birth to a son in Shaare Zedek just a few days beforehand, was "amazed" to discover she had been taking care of a strange baby.

The Arab woman's baby had been left in the nursery when she took the Jewish mother's son.

After the incident, Shaare Zedek worked to reassure the Jewish family, who insisted hospital staff evaluate the baby's health and tell them whether their baby had been fed by the Arab mother in the meantime.

The maternity ward's shift manager said, "I'm not covering anything up. I really have no idea how this happened. The hospital's head nurse is looking into how the incident happened. Someone is calling everyone again and again, in an effort to understand how this happened."

The shift manager, who found the baby, said, "The staff members who spoke to this mother told me she was in complete shock. Even now, she doesn't understand what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. The Arab mother is healthy, but we are doing blood tests on both her and the Jewish baby in order to be certain."

Shaare Zedek reported there were 28 babies in the nursery at the time the switch occurred. The baby was accidentally given to the other mother who was hospitalized in the same ward, and was returned to his true mother after only 17 minutes.

20,000 babies are born in Shaare Zedek every year. Although the hospital insists they have high security standards and are careful to avoid mix-ups, this is not the first time such a case has happened, and serious security lacks have been reported in other Israeli hospitals as well.

In addition, earlier this year an Arab posed as a doctor and walked around Shaare Zedek's maternity ward, stealing belongings and sexually harassing the new mothers.

Several cases of mix-ups happen every year, with every one of them involving a hospital nursery and a mother who was not "rooming in," that is, having the baby kept near her bed.

It's important to note Israel signed the World Health Organization's "Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative" to provide full breastfeeding support, prohibit formula advertisements in hospitals, and offer full rooming-in to every mother and baby. In practice, none of these are totally implemented in Israel, nor are they enforced by the government.

Shaare Zedek's rooming-in ward is relatively new and the pediatrician's check-ups are still done in the nursery, although a parent is welcome to accompany the baby.