Birth announcements

For years, the Wisconsin State Journal has carried free birth announcements by parents who consent to have the information published. Madison's two birthing hospitals say they will end the practice starting Thursday.

The State Journal will stop publishing birth announcements later this week because Madison’s two birthing hospitals will no longer provide the information to the newspaper.

The end of the traditional keepsake for parents and notice to the community stems from a growing concern about infant abductions, hospital officials say.

Birth listings “set people up as targets for somebody who might want to steal a baby,” said Kathy Kostrivas, Meriter Hospital’s assistant vice president for women’s health services.

“It’s an effort to improve safety and security for families,” said Kim Sveum, spokeswoman for St. Mary’s Hospital.

State Journal city editor Phil Brinkman said the paper can’t print the notices unless it gets the information from a hospital or other trusted source.

“Like obituaries, the potential for mischief is too great when it comes to taking this information directly from individuals over the phone or by email, which is why we rely on hospitals to provide it on the parents’ behalf,” Brinkman said.

“I understand the hospitals’ concern for the safety of their patients and their families,” he said. “But we have only published birth announcements from parents who have consented to share their news with their friends, neighbors and co-workers.”

The hospitals said they will stop providing information on babies born after Wednesday.

Kostrivas and Sveum said at least two groups have long recommended that hospitals not share the information.

A 1999 alert to hospitals by the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals, discussed eight infant abductions in hospitals.

“Discontinue publication of birth notices in local newspapers,” the alert said.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tells parents to consider the risk of birth notices.

“In general, birth announcements in newspapers are not endorsed by most experts,” says a guide by the center, called, “What Parents Should Know.”

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At least 290 babies have been abducted in the U.S. since 1983, including 132 at health care facilities, according to the center. Four cases, from 1989 to 1993, were linked by law enforcement to birth announcements, the center says.

“Our world is so different now than it was 25 to 30 years ago,” said Cathy Nahirny, the center’s senior analyst for infant abduction cases. Abductors “are using every means available to them to select a possible victim infant,” she said.

One reason some hospitals are no longer providing birth information is a fear of lawsuits, Nahirny said.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association and the American Hospital Association don’t track how many hospitals provide the information and how many don’t, spokeswomen said.

The State Journal’s free birth announcements included the date, hospital name, parents’ full names and whether the baby was a son or a daughter. The announcements did not list the parents’ hometown.

Sveum said St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo, which like St. Mary’s is owned by SSM Health Care of Wisconsin, is evaluating whether to continue providing birth information to the Baraboo News Republic and the Wisconsin Dells Events.

St. Mary’s Janesville, which is also owned by SSM and opened two years ago, hasn’t given birth information to newspapers.

Kostrivas said hospitals also discourage parents from posting birth news on social media.

Jade Lewis mostly followed that advice after her daughter, Kaia, was born at St. Mary’s in August. She posted three photos on Facebook, but not until two months after the birth.

Lewis, of Madison, said she’s disappointed newspaper birth announcements are going away.

She clipped Kaia’s State Journal notice for her scrapbook, and friends of her husband’s parents called with congratulations, saying they learned about the birth in the newspaper.

“It was a nice little celebratory blurb that made you smile,” she said.

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