The two babies sent home from Princess Anne Maternity Hospital, Southampton, with the wrong parents were reunited with their true parents early yesterday. The parents met at a hotel to swap babies after DNA tests confirmed that a mistake had been made.
Both were born on 24 November and taken home three days later. The possibility of a mistake was raised when one set of parents noticed that an identity tag bore the wrong surname.
The mix-up is the subject of an internal inquiry. An independent one will be held into the long-term implications.
A Department of Health spokesman said that the parents would not automatically receive compensation, but added that the department 'deeply regrets' this 'one in a million' case. Lawyers believe that the couples may be entitled to sue the hospital, and that they could claim compensation for emotional trauma.
Describing yesterday's meeting of the four parents, John Miller, clinical director at the hospital, said: 'We were remarkably encouraged by the way they did react. If that is carried on in the future I would like to think they will very quickly come to terms with what has happened.' He said neither of the babies had been breast-fed.
The hospital has not named the parents, but yesterday's Daily Mail identified them as Maureen and Tony Bursey, of Brockenhurst, Hampshire, and Marie Coyle and her boyfriend, Peter Wadsley, of Southampton.
Mrs Bursey, 46, a supermarket supervisor, was quoted as saying: 'I had an instinct right from the beginning that something was wrong, but I kept hoping that this baby was mine.'
Ms Coyle, 27, a former hospital worker, had believed she had the right child and was reported to have cried inconsolably when the news was broken, saying: 'I can't believe it. My beautiful baby.'
Other recent cases of mistaken identity at maternity hospitals occurred at Morriston Hospital, Swansea in 1971, Freedom Fields Hospital, Plymouth in 1986 and Portlaoise General Hospital, Co Laois in the Irish Republic, the same year.
Guidelines recently reissued by the Royal College of Midwives include: keeping mothers and babies together at all times wherever possible, and tying two identity labels to the infant - preferably to the ankles.
But some hospitals are planning even more stringent procedures. Dudley Road in Birmingham has announced that babies will be photographed and fingerprinted.