Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome
The first few weeks and months after a new baby is born can be a time of excitement and joy, as well as anxiety. New parents can be surprised by how much a baby cries. Hearing a baby cry can be very upsetting and frustrating.
A tired, frustrated parent and a crying baby can be a deadly combination. The most common reason given for shaking a baby is that the baby would not stop crying. Shaken Baby Syndrome is a term used to describe the serious injuries that can result if a baby is violently shaken, which causes a baby’s head to whip back and forth tearing blood vessels in the brain and eyes. The bleeding and injuries caused by shaking can lead to blindness, paralysis, deafness, broken bones, developmental delays, seizures, learning disabilities and even death.
Although it is very difficult to talk about Shaken Baby Syndrome, it is a real concern in our society. “In the past few years, we have seen the number of cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome double at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, and this increase has been sustained for a couple of years,” reports Dr. Vincent Grant, the Medical Director of Trauma at Alberta Children’s Hospital. The cause for the increase is unknown. “It is really difficult to know why we have seen such a dramatic increase. Are there factors related to the recent economic downturn that are leading to more life stress in families and more inflicted injuries? Are we simply seeing an increase based on the significant pediatric population boom in Calgary? It is difficult to know. However, from reviewing our overall hospital trauma data, we have also seen a significant increase in the number of inflicted bone fractures presenting to our emergency department and orthopedic clinic, so there are clearly more cases of child abuse presenting overall to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. This is very worrisome and underlies the importance of trying our best to educate caregivers and prevent these injuries from occurring in the first place,” says Dr. Grant.
While the increase of Shaken Baby Syndrome injuries is very alarming, there are things you can do as parents to help calm a crying infant and prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome. Here are some helpful hints to help you soothe a crying baby:
Make your baby as comfortable as possible. Snuggle your baby close to your chest; your heartbeat may comfort the baby. Breastfeeding moms may offer the breast. Use a favorite blanket or soft toy while cuddling them. Make sure they are not too hot or cold. Check their diaper; keep your baby clean and dry. Offer a soother or teething ring. Give your baby a gentle backrub.
Provide gentle motion. Walk or rock with your baby. You can use a baby swing if you have one. Take them for a walk in a stroller. Carry your baby in a sling or front carrier. Some babies like to go for a car ride; be sure they are safely secured in an infant car seat.
Provide some soft music or other relaxing sounds. You can try humming or singing a lullaby. The sound of the vacuum cleaner, clothes dryer or dishwasher can sometimes calm a baby.
Feed your baby slowly and burp them often. Gas in your baby’s tummy can be painful. Burping your baby often may help. If you think that your baby’s crying may be linked to feedings, talk to your doctor or public health nurse.
Keep yourself calm. It’s more important to stay calm than to stop the crying. If you are beginning to feel frustrated, remember to take a break, don’t shake. Take a break by placing your baby in a safe place like the crib, leave the room and take a 15-minute break to give yourself a chance to relax and calm down before you make another attempt to console your baby. Letting them cry for a few minutes will not harm your baby; even a moment of shaking can be deadly.
Plan ahead with someone you trust. It is okay to ask for help. Make a plan to have someone you trust come over immediately if the crying becomes too much to handle. Try to arrange for breaks from childcare and get some rest.
Your baby will cry; it is normal. The good news is that the stage of increased crying does not last forever. Crying is how your baby communicates his or her needs. When you cannot soothe your baby, remember that it is more important to stay calm than to stop the crying. If you are worried about your coping or concerned about your baby’s crying, talk to your doctor or public health nurse. They can help.
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