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One baby, often a newborn, is secretly exchanged for another.

May be a living baby for a dead one, the son of a rich family for the baby of a beggar, or an accidental swap in the hospital nursery. In any case, the problem is that the babies were swapped, and they won't find out until later in life. Usually, in the worst moment. Frequently, the finding is the worst moment.

Favorite of Soap Operas around the world. With all the use this trope has had, you'd think that it would be a Dead Horse Trope by now, but it's still alive and kicking.

Compare Moses in the Bulrushes and the twin specific version Separated at Birth.

This is impossible to subvert.

Someone who fantasizes they were Switched At Birth has a Changeling Fantasy.

Changeling Tale is an older subtrope involving elves snatching babies. They will often replace it with a Doppelganger.

Examples of Switched At Birth include:

Anime and Manga

  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean, a grieving mother whose newborn died after birth swap hers for a living child... in the process splitting up two fraternal twins. This comes back in the end, when the sibling relationship is revealed: one of the twins is Jolyne's ally Wes Bluemarine/Weather Report (birth name, Domenico Pucci), and the other is the Big Bad Enrico Pucci
  • In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Shion and Mion pulled a switch as kiddos. . . right before an initiation ceremony that had the younger twin, Mion, branded as the heir of the family instead of her older twin Shion.
  • The final arc of Kinnikuman revolves around the revelation that there was a fire in the hospital on the day the prince of Planet Kinniku was born—and in the confusion he may have been switched with any one of five other newborn boys. A tournament between the six now-grown possible princes is organized to determine the real deal; as it turns out the Kinnikuman everyone is familiar with, Suguru, was the real prince all along.
  • Sasurai no Taiyou starts when the nurse Michiko swaps two baby girls in the maternity ward she works due to a grudge. One girl (Miki) born to a dirty poor family is raised in the lap of luxury, whereas the rightful heiress (Nozomi) spends her early years in poverty. The lady willingly reveals the deception at the very end of the series: Nozomi takes a while to accept it but decides that the parents who raised her are her real ones, whereas Miki almost loses it out of fear that her parents will reject her. In the end, both families are seen reunited and doing their best to get along.
  • In the manga Kakkou no Iinazuke, a boy named Nagi Umino was switched with another baby as a newborn. When he's about to meet his birth parents in a restaurant he meets a girl named Erika Amano, who tries to convince him to be her fake boyfriend since she's apparently being pressured by her adoptive parents to marry young. And then he makes it to the meeting with his birht parents... who turn out to be Erika's adoptive parents... meaning they want Nagi and Erika to get hitched. Hilarity Ensues.

Comic Books

  • Invincible heroine Atom Eve has this as her backstory. The scientist in charge of the Super Soldier project that created Eve felt guilty about condemning the unborn Eve to life as a lab experiment and had her Switched At Birth with a stillborn child. The parents were initially surprised to see Eve after being told their baby hadn't survived, but quickly decided it wasn't important—their daughter was alive and that was all that mattered.
  • It was retconned that Barry Allen had a twin brother who was believed stillborn; however, the doctor actually switched his twin with another couple's dead baby to keep them from pressing charges for botching the delivery, and he was raised as Malcolm Thawne. When Malcolm realized this was one of the reasons for his terrible childhood, he killed the doctor in a rage, demanding to know why he was the one to be taken.
  • Billy and Mary Batson were separated as babies when one of their caretakers swapped Mary with a rich family's dead baby daughter. She left each kid one half of a locket, in hopes that sooner or later they'd be reunited. (And they were)

Fairy Tales

  • The original sprawling story of Beauty and The Beast used this in Beauty's case; her (fairy) mother exchanged her as an infant with the merchant's dead daughter. In the grand reveal at the end, she learns of her noble birth and first-cousin relationship to the former Beast.


  • A similar theme is used in the 1988 comedy-of-errors film Big Business with Lilly Tomlin and Bette Midler playing the mismatched sets of twins separated and swapped at birth of a rural working family and a wealthy urban family – each named Rose (Tomlin) and Sadie (Midler). Unusually, in the end neither birth nor upbringing turns out to provide the stronger link between the women; instead, urban Rose and country Sadie are Wide Eyed Idealists while country Rose and urban Sadie are aggressive and cynical.
  • Parodied in the film Delirious, where a man trapped inside a soap opera is outraged with the changes its current head writer is making. One of them is the show's idealistic heroine being revealed to have been switched at birth with the daughter of the rich villainous family that runs the whole town, causing her to INSTANTLY become exactly like them.
  • The Omen began with an swap between a dead baby and a mysterious newborn.
  • The most mind-hurting example is in the 1970 movie Start The Revolution Without Me. In pre-Revolutionary France, two sets of identical twins are born on the same night and delivered by the same doctor, so there are four babies. The midwife and doctor can't remember which is which, so they shuffle them a bit so "at least we'll be half right". They grow up as two sets of fraternal twins, one aristocratic, one revolutionary peasant. Then the French Revolution comes around ...
    • This is pretty bizarre, and seems to relate to the belief that nature always trumps nurture, as seen mostly on cop shows.
  • The Eric Idle-Rick Moranis vehicle Splitting Heirs was a pretty straightforward take on this.
  • The aptly titled 1991 TV movie Switched at Birth (no relation to the TV series) is based on the true story of Kimberly Mays and Arlena Twigg.


  • In an obvious nod to The Omen, Good Omens starts with a baby swap that doesn't go quite the way the swappers plan.
    • To be fair, they had to deal with three babies, not two; "a golden-haired male baby we will call Baby A," "a golden-haired male baby we will call Baby B," and "a golden-haired male baby we will call the Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Great Beast that is called Dragon, Prince of This World, Father of Lies, Spawn of Satan, and Lord of Darkness".
  • This is part of the plot of Mark Twain's novel Pudd'nhead Wilson, involving two sons of a white plantation owner, one by his wife and one by a slave woman, being switched at birth by the slave so her son could live a life of privilege.
  • PG Wodehouse's If I Were You.
  • In "Lady Clare," a lengthy poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the titular noblewoman discovers that her nursemaid Alice is actually her biological mother, who had been the nursemaid of the real Lady Clare. When the earl's daughter died, Alice switched the infants and claimed the dead baby as her own so as not to deprive the noble family of their only child.
  • In Andre Norton's Jargoon Pard, Kethan is switched at birth for a woman's daughter, because only a son can inherit. At the climax, this is revealed to the woman and his parents; they reveal that actually, they knew it for a long time. Kethan nearly despairs because his purported mother no longer wants him, because she can no longer use him. After the fight, however, his parents eagerly lay claim both to their biological son and the daughter they raised.
  • The protagonist of Tad Williams' The War of the Flowers was born in the Magical Land, but switched at birth for a child from the mundane world in an Equivalent Exchange.
  • As was the protagonist of Roger Zelazny's Madwand. In the end the two changelings end up making war on each other.
  • The fantasy novel Split Heirs involves a royal set of boy/girl triplets, where the girl, and younger boy triplet were supposed to be secretly sent off to be raised by the queens brother, while the firstborn boy was to be raised to be the heir to a warrior kingdom. A mix up occurs, and the girl is raised as a prince, and becomes a fearsome warrior, while one boy becomes a shepherd, and the other a wizard's apprentice. The culture of the story thought that multiple births meant the queen had been unfaithful, which would have meant her execution. Also, a girl would not have been able to inherit the throne, so the queen kept the girl's sex a secret even to the girl herself.
  • A lot of baby-shuffling occurs in Septimus Heap. The title character is pronounced dead at birth by the midwife, but she actually steals him and he ends up getting switched with her own son. Meanwhile, Septimus' father finds an abandoned baby girl, and since his wife is known to have been pregnant and they think their baby is dead, they adopt the girl and pretend she's their own daughter.
  • In L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series (Anne of Ingleside), a mean little girl convinces one of Anne and Gilbert's twin daughters, Nan, that she was switched at birth with a fisherman's daughter. The girl insists that twins always look alike, and the fact that Nan and her twin Di don't, being fraternal twins, it proves that they were switched at birth. Nan does the honorable thing and tries to switch back, only to be told by the fisherman's wife that her daughter is nearly a year older than she is, and therefore they could not have been switched. Quite relieved, Nan turns to go home and gets caught in a storm before returning safely. Anne and Gilbert are understandably upset.
  • In Inconceivable by Carolyn Savage, a Switched At Implantation medical error at an in-vitro fertilisation clinic in 2009 leaves the author pregnant which a child which belongs not to her (or her husband, Sean) but to some other couple. Oops!
  • At least two instances in A Song of Ice and Fire. In A Feast for Crows, Mance Rayder's son is switched with Gilly's son in order to prevent Melisandre from taking advantage of his "royal blood" as a sacrifice to R'hllor. A Dance with Dragons reveals that Aegon Targaryen is still alive because of a baby swap.
  • The accidental switch of the Fries family's three infants for those of the Breeze family triggers the main action in Robert A. Heinlein's Podkayne Of Mars—even though the infants are never seen "on-camera" and play no part in the rest of the novel.

Live Action TV

  • In the Brazilian Soap Opera Por Amor, a mother switched her newborn for the dead baby of her first daughter. The mother did that in order to relieve the bad news that her daughter became sterile trough her difficult birthing. When the daughter, the daughter husband, and the mother's husband (the baby's father) find out, they were less than pleased.
  • An episode of Dinosaurs revolved around the possibility that Baby Sinclair had been Switched At BirthLaying. It's heavily implied that this is in fact the case (the other baby is even green, like the rest of the family) but of course he ends up remaining with the Sinclair family.
  • Home and Away where we learn Jade was accidently swapped with another baby, who turns out to be identical to Jade's (previously though to be) fraternal twin Kirsty
  • On Road to Avonlea (broadcast in the U.S. as simply "Avonlea"), Felicity and her friend Sally were born on the same day with the same flighty doctor present. When they harass her about not having a mother, Sarah forges a letter from the doctor confessing to switching the babies by accident. Aunt Hetty catches on, but first suggests that they switch the girls back, since the mothers had earlier made a big point of her not being able to understand motherhood, having never given birth.
  • Veronica Mars contains a rare modern example of this trope played straight. Veronica discovers that her friend Mac was switched at birth with Madison Sinclair.
  • One Life to Live is the baby switch headquarters of American soaps. In the early 80s, Karen Wolek switched her sister's dead baby for a living one, a switch that went on for years. Later, Gabrielle switched Alicia's dead baby with Brenda's living son. In 2004, a major Crossover with All My Children saw Kelly from OLTL raising the child of Babe from AMC, who in turn had best friend Bianca's baby. The most recent[when?] involves Bess, an alternate personality of Jessica, who switched Jessica's dead baby for Starr's.
  • Happened in an episode of Ghost Whisperer, where the ghost of the week discovers she'd been switched at birth shortly after her death, and plans to tell the girl she was switched with, despite both their parents not wanting her to know.
  • This trope is what prevents straight Brother-Sister Incest in the Korean drama Autumn In My Heart: the main couple were raised as biological siblings, and in their teenage years, when their feelings become muddy, it's revealed that she was inadvertently exchanged with another baby girl because her older brother, a toddler back then, entered in the nursery and exchanged the name tags.
  • Done on Neighbours when Bree is revealed to have been switched with another baby at birth.
  • On The Dick Van Dyke Show Rob was convinced that Richie had been switched with another baby at the hospital, because the the hospital kept confusing Richie Petrie with Richie Peters (delivering the wrong flowers etc.) and baby Richie didn't look like either parent. That is, until he met the Peters family, who were black resulting in one of the longest laughs in TV history.

Rob Petrie: Why didn't you tell me on the phone?
Mr. Peters: And miss the expression on your face?


Newspaper Comics

  • Calvin's dad has once commented about how he's certain that some nurse switched the basinettes.


  • Gilbert and Sullivan used (and parodied) this one frequently; it shows up in H.M.S. Pinafore (where the heroine's boyfriend is revealed to have been switched with her father, who in turn goes on to marry his former wet-nurse) and The Gondoliers (which actually involves multiple switches).

Video Games

  • This was a major story point in Shadow of Destiny, where the two female characters in the game (one from the past, one from the present) turned out to have been switched at birth by the "Homunculus" as part of his scheme to ensure that history turns out exactly as he wants it to.
  • In Tales of the Abyss, it turns out that Natalia was actually not the blood princess of Kimlasca--the real princess was stillborn, and the midwife Maggie switched the infant with her daughter's child Meryl (now Natalia) after the Score said so. To make matters worse, Meryl/Natalia's real mother Sylvia commited suicide over it - and her real father became one of the Six God Generals, Largo the Black Lion.
  • Revealed to be the case for Battler in Umineko no Naku Koro ni. He becomes a little distraught at the realization.

Web Comics

Real Life

  • Modern, western hospitals go through extraordinary measures to prevent this from happening, after some well-publicized (and very expensive) cases that came to light with the advent of DNA testing.
    • In Russia, it recently[when?] happened to two infants girls. The families still see each others frequently, and the girls still say "Mama"! when they see the other's family mother. Who miss them actually.
    • In Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction?, this story was introduce as true: A woman discovered thanks to her premarital exam that her blood group wasn't like her parents's. She came to the hospital with her fiancé who was born the same day and at the same place in a confusing night (a new's year eve, during a tempest). The mess led the nurses to write the wrong sex on minute books. So she was switched at birth with her own future husband, no less.
      • Believable if you consider the fact that people tend to marry those who remind them of their parents, and who better to remind you of Daddy than his own son, and of Mommy than her own daughter?
    • As mentioned under Film, this happened to Kimberly Mays and Arlena Twigg which inspired the aformentioned TV film Switched at Birth.
  • Reproductive technologies, such as in-vitro fertilization, raise additional possibilities for sperm, eggs, embryos or zygotes to be Switched At Implantation. In the worst case, a woman could unknowingly give birth to a baby which has no DNA relationship either to her or to any existing member of her immediate family, breaking the Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe presumption, and raise that child as her own and her husband's own.
  • Brood parasitism is a strategy used by certain bird species, most famously the Common Cuckoo, as well as some species of bee and wasps.
    • This is a darker variant of this trope since there isn't any actual "switching" involved. The cuckoo chick simply hatches earlier than the other eggs (cuckoos incubate their eggs in their bodies longer than other birds to make sure this happens) and pushes the other eggs out of the nest to their doom. This strategy only works because most birds are too stupid to tell the difference between a chick of their species and a cuckoo chick (who is sometimes larger than the "parents"). If the parents are smart enough to ditch the cuckoo chick, a bunch of adult cuckoos attack them according to what is seriously called the "Cuckoo Mafia Theory". Cuckoos are creepy.
      • This seems even more cruel when you consider that since cuckoo chicks are even larger than the "parents" much of the time, the "parents" struggle to get enough food to feed it.
    • Interestingly enough, humans trying to save an endangered bird species will do something similar to this. A bird species that very nearly went extinct would only lay and watch one egg at a time, but if the egg was removed, it would lay another egg. So conservationists would take the egg from the endangered bird, and put it in the nest of another bird of similar size and diet. Said bird will raise the chick as it's own. This technique saved a bird species from extinction, with literally only a few specimens to start with, the population is now at a few hundred.
      • This was done with the California Condor. A lot of the extra chicks were raised by life-sized condor puppets so they would imprint correctly.