If you're thinking of posting baby pictures on the hospital's Web page for far-away relatives to get a peek at the newborn, carefully consider the risks and take some precautions.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which publishes a guidebook for health care facilities about safe practices, recommends that parents be well-trained on the hazards of both electronic and newspaper birth announcements.
There have been cases where abductions were attempted or occurred when someone learned through a birth announcement that a newborn was arriving home. And a picture on the Internet can add to the temptation to a potential kidnapper and spread information to a much wider audience.
"You just don't know who is out there on the Internet," says Cathy Nahirny, supervisor for the case analysis and support division of the center. "Someone may see the picture and say 'Hey, that baby looks like my husband or significant other,' and that can trigger them to act."
Child abductors generally spend a lot of time obsessing about their plans, and baby and parent information on the Internet can give them enough information to con their way into a patient's room or nursery disguised as a nurse or relative and kidnap an infant.
Information can help abductors
In other scenarios, the information on the Internet can let an abductor know how to find the home of a newborn. And abductions in the home are far more likely to result in violence, Nahirny says.
"Our basic thought is that this is not advisable," Nahirny says. "It exposes the family to some increased risk."
Nahirny says hospitals that insist on putting pictures on the Internet should never post them while the mother and baby are still in the hospital. They should limit access to the Web page with some sort of password that families give out, they should remove pictures after a short time (five days, for example), and they should not give out personal information (addresses, telephone numbers, etc.) about the parents.
"When it comes to birth announcements on the Internet, less is more," she says. "They can provide enough information so that family and friends know that this is their loved one, but not [enough information to] identify the baby to outsiders."
Nahirny says parents should be advised in prenatal classes about the risks of Internet photos, birth announcements, and other practices like festooning their homes with balloons and storks to welcome home the new baby. All of this can help guide a potential abductor to the family's door.
And if parents go ahead with announcements, they should also be told to be on their guard. If a nurse shows up to check the baby, he or she should present some identification. If the nurse is arriving at an unscheduled time, the visit should be verified with the hospital before the nurse is admitted to the home.
The same holds for photographers who may arrive at a home with offers to photograph the baby, if they aren't known to the parents and didn't schedule an appointment to come.
New parents should be taught that anybody they don't know making an unscheduled visit to their home should be kept on the other side of a locked door until the parents are satisfied they know who they're dealing with.
"The most important thing is that parents are making an informed decision as to whether they want to participate," Nahirny explains.
"There is all this exciting new technology available to people, but they have to be careful how they use it," she says.