NEW BRUNSWICK — No two people share the same footprints. But when you just put a foot to ink and then foot to paper, it's not easy to spot the distinct differences from human to human.

At Saint Peter's University Hospital, ink and paper is now the old-fashioned way to collect a newborn's footprints. The hospital has become the first in New Jersey, New York or Pennsylvania to digitize the process. Shortly after delivery, the baby's feet are scanned with the CertaScan system — completely safe for babies — and a digital copy is uploaded to the newborn's electronic medical record, along with a photo of the baby.

"It links the baby to the mom," Pam Harmon, director of women and children's services at Saint Peter's, told New Jersey 101.5. "We do the footprints of the baby and fingerprints of the mother."

The hospital describes the digital shift as an added level of security. Newborns are already equipped with identification bands, as well as transponders that would signal a response when they approach an exit.

Harmon said a baby's digital prints can be used as identification throughout their lifetime in the event of an emergency such as a natural disaster. Saint Peter's is using the same technology used by the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"They don't really like their feet being touched, but it takes less than two minutes to do the whole thing," said Deborah Ford-Thompson, manager of the mother-baby unit.

Ford-Thompson said the hospital delivered nearly 6,000 babies in 2016. Among the 38 hospitals nationwide with the equipment, Saint Peter's delivers the most babies annually.

The digital image of a baby's prints are so clear and detailed, Harmon said, that some parents have considered tattoos of the images. Parents are offered permanent access to the prints online with a secure log-in. They can customize their birth certificate and import the prints to other sites for use on t-shirts or other keepsakes.

"We're planning on using it with the birth announcements," said Jankhna Masina, of Branchburg. She and her husband, Mark, welcomed their first baby, Matteo, on Aug. 12. at Saint Peter's.

Jankhna and Mark Masina with their new baby boy, Matteo (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

Masina said if she had to locate her own birth certificate at this moment, she'd have to dig through her entire house. And even if she found her baby records, the footprints would likely be faded.

"Having it digitally, it's available to you whenever you need it. You could print it out if you misplaced a copy," she said.

Her husband said he's relieved to have an extra layer of identification, just in case a mishap or malicious act occurred and someone tried to leave the wing with another person's baby.

"You have the footprints, you have the mom's fingerprints, and a picture of the baby," he said. "It ties everything together nicely and it gives that added sense of security."

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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