Why Do Hospitals Take a Newborn’s Footprints?

Taking a baby’s footprints at the hospital is a tradition that dates back to the 1960s, and is still done at hospitals across the United States to this day.

Many people — especially parents of newborns who witness the process firsthand — often ask, “why does the hospital still take footprints of newborn babies?”

Besides being used as a sweet memento, a baby’s footprints serve a practical purpose.

What Happens After A Baby is Born?

After a child is born, the most important step (besides celebrating) is to fill out the newborn’s Certificate of Live Birth.

This form is usually filled out by a nurse or other healthcare professional. The Certificate of Live Birth, which looks like an application form with several squares, asks for the information of the child and parents.

However, this is not the entire process: the certificate is simply a ‘draft’ and the hospital must submit it to the Office of Vital Records in order to register the official birth certificate.

When are a newborn baby’s footprints taken at the hospital?

They are usually taken within one to two hours after birth. Some hospitals create a birth certificate with footprints, while others simply file the footprints in the baby’s medical record.

Why Does the Hospital Still Take Footprints of Newborn Babies?

After learning about the process, you may still be wondering, why do hospitals use newborn footprints instead of, for example, fingerprints?

Anyone who has ever held a newborn knows that they are constantly moving and wriggling. In some cases, they may just curl their hands into tiny fists, which can make taking fingerprints very challenging.

On the other hand, a baby’s foot is almost always straight and requires much less effort to print.

The process of getting a newborn’s footprints on a birth certificate is fairly simple: the nurse or medical personnel gently takes the baby’s ankle, applies the foot to an ink pad to cover the surface, and firmly presses it against a blank paper.

Some hospitals may even opt for the latest technology to take the newborn’s footprint digitally with a special machine. This does not hurt the baby and is even easier than the traditional method of ink and paper.

Why Are There Footprints on a Birth Certificate?

Hospitals originally started the practice of taking a newborn’s footprint back in the 1960s as a way to properly identify the baby. This was done to avoid accidentally switching babies at birth, and, on a lesser scale, to prevent kidnapping.

Just like fingerprints, every human’s footprint is unique. This means that each whorl (rounded shape), ridge, and line can only be attributed to one person in the entire world.

Thanks to this concept, hospitals started taking both the baby’s footprints and the mother’s fingerprints at the same time, so that they could use them to identify the correct mother or child if needed.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), around 90 percent of hospitals still practice footprinting babies to this day. This is especially true for larger hospitals, which sometimes have hundreds of babies born in a week.

What Information is on a Birth Certificate?

From the Birth Registration Card to the Certificate of Live Birth, there are many names and ‘types’ of birth certificates. However, only one type is official, and that is a certified Birth Certificate.

This official birth certificate is issued by the vital records office of a state and is an acceptable form of identification.

As the US government notes, a birth certificate is the single most important document that a person has, because it allows him or her to obtain a social security card, enroll in school, apply for government benefits, get married, and much more.

US birth certificates are standardized across most states and feature vital information about the person, as well as their parents.

The information on an official birth certificate includes the following:

  • The child’s full name (first, middle, and surname) along with their gender, date of birth, place of birth (city, state, country), and details about the birth (i.e. single, twins, triplets).
  • The father’s full name, birth location, and birthdate.
  • The mother’s full name (including maiden name), birth location, and birthdate.
  • The parent’s city, state, and country of residence.

An authorized birth certificate will always have three items: the signature of the registrar, the date of issue, and a raised seal of the city, county, or state.

It is important to note that many hospitals issue a ‘souvenir’ birth certificate, which may include the baby’s footprints.

New parents should keep in mind that these types of certificates are not official birth certificates and, as such, should not be used as an official document. Rather, they are given out by hospitals as a sweet gesture for the parents to keep as a memento of their joyous occasion.