May 29, 2023

I didn't know you weren't meant to take baby blankets home from the hospital

By Jen McCutcheon

Do you have a photo of yourself or your baby wrapped in a colourful blanket in hospital?

Maybe you have them tucked away in a glory box of memories or your baby now uses them to wrap up their dolly?

These distinctive blankets are usually the first piece of fabric wrapped around your baby moments after they are born.

Each state has different colours, but in New South Wales public hospitals the colours are pink, white, blue and yellow.

It's a sentimental object many mums, including myself, pack in their hospital bag when they leave with their baby.

But I have become shocked to learn that you're not actually meant to take them, and I have now realised I'm a baby blanket thief.

HealthShare is the arm of NSW Health which supplies the blankets to public hospitals statewide.

Garth Worboys is the acting chief executive.

"We send out around 1.2 million blankets each year," he says.

"But that's 1.2 million that are coming and going from our laundry service so it's not a million unique blankets that we're sending out each year, I think it's around 100,000 new."

Last year 83,411 babies were registered in New South Wales.

So clearly there's a still a few mums like me who think they're ours to take home.

"The majority of the blankets do come back," he says.

"There'll of course be a few that don't for various reasons and I'm sure one of those reasons is exhausted, excited and nervous parents taking their new bundle home in them.

"And funnily enough, when we were preparing for baby number two my wife got down our newborn clothes from baby number one and in unpacking, I noticed that I too had one of these blankets stored away.

"So even I am not immune to accidentally taking it, but I am going to use it for baby number two, and I have promised my linen team that I will return it."

For those blankets that don't leave hospital, they have the capacity to be re-used and wrapped around 50–200 babies.

"The life cycle of our linen is around four years, so it wouldn't be impossible for one blanket to have had 200 babies wrapped in it," Mr Worboys says.

"It's almost a rite of passage as a parent in New South Wales now to have your baby wrapped in one of these blankets.

"The colours have been around for decades, but I actually don't know the answer as to why [the blankets are] those colours, so if there are any linen historians out there who do know the answer I'd love to hear it."

WA's coastal southern town of Denmark has teamed up with resident Carolyn Oliff to give free cloth nappies to each new baby born in town.

Mums including myself can rest easy — the police won't be knocking on our doors anytime soon to have them returned.

"We have no intention of chasing down new mothers and fathers for these blankets," Mr Worboys says.

"We're most interested in ensuring that babies get home warm, safe and comfortable and those really tired parents have those nice memories."

While there isn't a campaign to return the blankets, anyone like myself who feels guilty for having one or two or three is fine to return them to their local hospital, no questions asked.

I'll be doing just that.

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