Ann Stevenson - Never shake a baby
Experts have learned that crying is the No. 1 trigger for shaking a baby
Click, click. How does the sound of knitting needles busily clicking together help prevent infant abuse?
Through a national campaign called Click for Babies, more than 50,000 handmade purple-colored baby caps from volunteer knitters and crocheters across the country are helping to raise awareness about normal crying and the dangers of shaking an infant.
During November, babies born at hundreds of participating hospitals will receive a free purple baby cap, a DVD and booklet called the Period of PURPLE Crying. The PURPLE program was created by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrom to help parents understand their baby’s crying.
In McMinnville, parents of every baby born at Willamette Valley Medical Center receive this educational, 10-minute DVD and pamphlet upon discharge. They are encouraged to share the DVD with their baby’s caretakers as well.
In November, each baby also will receive a purple cap. In collaboration, the McMinnville Noon Kiwanis Club pays for the DVDs, and the hospital’s birthing center distributes them.
Traci Millsap, nurse manager for the Women’s Center at the medical center is enthusiastic. “I think it’s a wonderful way to present a difficult subject,” she said. “Some parents don’t understand that crying is normal. They don’t want anyone to know they are frustrated and may not ask for or seek help. This is an educational tool to help them and, I hope, prevent shaken baby syndrome in the future. What is really great is that this DVD is good for mom, dad, grandparent, siblings, babysitters and anyone else who may be left alone with an infant.”
PURPLE, an easy-to-remember acronym, reminds parents of the characteristics of normal infant crying:
P - Peak of crying. Babies may cry more each week, peaking at two months, and then less at three to five months.
U - Unexpected. Crying can come and go, with no explanation.
R - Resists soothing. The baby might not stop crying, no matter what you try.
P - Pain-like face. It may look like the baby is in pain, even when he or she is not.
L - Long lasting. The baby might cry five hours a day or more.
E - Evening. The baby might cry more in the late afternoon or evening.
Experts have learned that crying is the No. 1 trigger for shaking a baby. An estimated 1,200 to 1,400 children are injured by shaking every year in the United States, and about 25 percent die from their injuries. Actual numbers may be much higher, as many cases likely go undetected or misdiagnosed.
Not only is shaken baby syndrome/abusive head trauma a crime, it is also a serious public health issue. Besides death, shaking an infant can result in permanent disability, blindness, mental retardation or developmental delays, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, motor dysfunction and seizures.
Survivors may require constant medical or personal attention, which places tremendous emotional and financial strain on families. Medical costs associated with initial and long-term care for these children can range from $300,000 to more than $1 million.
“Many parents have no idea what to expect when they bring their new baby home from the hospital,” says Ryan Steinbeigle, director of development for the NCSBS. “The goal of the Period of PURPLE Crying program is to give parents reasonable expectations and let them know that all healthy infants cry more in the first few weeks and months of life. The crying will come to end, and it is OK to put the infant down in a safe place and walk away when feeling frustrated.”
The good news is that the syndrome is preventable, and we all have a role in that prevention. We can help educate others about the dangers of shaking a baby, we can create awareness of normal infant crying, and we can help support a new parent in the often-frustrating daily care of their newborn by offering to lend a hand. As the national center states on its website, “Believe all babies can be safe from harm. We do.”
Click program: www.clickforbabies.org
Shaken baby syndrome: www.dontshake.org
Period of PURPLE Crying: www.purplecrying.info
Guest writer Ann Stevenson serves as chair for McMinnville Noon Kiwanis Club’s Young Children Priority One Committee, is involved with PURPLE statewide efforts and facilitates a child sexual abuse training program.