NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Before yesterday, each baby born at Saint Peter’s University Hospital—or just about anywhere, for that matter—had one thing in common: inky feet.

Shortly after each infant’s first breath, nurses took their footprints. The ink-and-paper process was a messy one, hospital workers said, and it often yielded cloudy results. In fact, the imprecise nature of the procedure killed any shot that these footprints had to actually identify children.

The messy sketches were, at best, a keepsake for Mom and Dad. And if they lost the copy, it was gone forever.

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But now, Saint Peter’s does things a bit differently.

Yesterday, July 12, saw the first time in which a baby’s footprints were digitally scanned, printed and stored at the New Brunswick birthing hospital. That’s because the medical center recently bought four digital footprint scanners, a move paid for by Saint Peter’s Foundation and set to improve security and parents’ memories, according to the hospital.

“The safety and security of our babies is first and foremost. We take that very seriously,” Pamela Harmon, who heads the hospital’s Women and Children’s Division, told TAPinto New Brunswick. “It actually uses the same technology that the FBI does for fingerprints, so the level of detail is there.”

Saint Peter’s is the 38th institution in the country and the largest birthing hospital to implement this technology. It’s the only system of its kind in New York and New Jersey, and the closest such machine is in Hartford, Connecticut.

The upgrade brought various TV news crews and reporters from across the state and New York City to New Brunswick. And that’s largely because of the technology’s potential to keep the wrong people out.

While infant abductions in hospitals are are—there have been 300 or so since the mid-1980s—the problem is serious enough that hospitals are concerned. But, according to Christopher Tillery of CertaScan, which manufacturers the devices, the footprints can also be used to identify children as they age, beef up Amber Alert messages and, perhaps one day, find older people with dementia who go missing.

Throw in the potential for chaos in, say, a natural disaster, like Superstorm Sandy, or a terrorist act, and the need to properly identify babies becomes even more pressing, Harmon said.

Here’s how it works: One of the four mobile machines enters a mother’s room. The baby’s identification wristband is scanned into the system, followed by the child’s footprints and photograph. Then an employee snaps a picture of Mom, who is forever linked to her child, in the cloud and beyond.

You could say it’s a matching stamp, similar to those given to families who enter the children’s restaurant Chuck E. Cheese’s together.

“This is going to become the gold standard,” Harmon said. “Hospitals have to start to step up their game as far as what they can do with security.”

For Alicia and Lukasz Wojciechowski, digital footprinting was a welcome transformation. Their newborn daughter Abigail was the first to go through the process. 

“It’s something we just assumed was already happening,” Alicia Wojciechowski told TAPinto New Brunswick from her hospital bed, with her baby sleeping nearby, “because it’s going digital for everything.”

The parents, who have an older child who got the ink-and-paper treatment, liked the digital upgrade with each new thing they learned. Peace of mind and safety, Lukasz Wojciechowski noted, was paramount—along with the fact that they can’t physically lose these footprints.

And while Mom doesn’t consider herself a prolific social media user, she couldn’t help but share a photo of her new baby’s footprints.