Never shake a baby!
It seems like common sense and something everyone should know, but rates of child abuse and shaken baby syndrome continue to increase.
Each year, 1,000,000 children in the United States are victims of child abuse and 3 children a day die from abuse or neglect.
According to reports, 'homicide is the leading cause of injury-related deaths in children younger than 5 yrs' and 'shaken baby syndrome may account for up to 25%' of these homicides.
Also, although likely under-reported, 3,000 children a year in the United States are thought to be victims of shaken baby syndrome.
Can these deaths be prevented?
Many people think that they can't, and that is likely why we don't hear more about shaken baby syndrome. After all, what kind of person would shake their baby? Can someone who would shake a baby be educated to not do it?
Some of these people are likely just abusive and won't be stopped until their abuse is recognized and they are caught, but others are just angry and frustrated that their baby won't stop crying and don't realize that they are harming their child. The harm to these children can likely be prevented with more education.
In fact, one program, the Upstate New York Shaken Baby Syndrome Education Program, reports a 'sustained and consistent 50% reduction in incidence' of shaken baby syndrome in the counties in which the program has been started. You can view the video, Portrait of Promise: Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome, that is used in the program online.
According to George Lithco, who lost his eleven month old son after he was shaken by a day care provider, 'educating new parents about the danger of shaking, the need to cope with the inevitable moments of frustration, and ways that they can help protect their child from injury is the single most important way to protect babies - and children as old as 5 years of age - from shaking injuries.'
In addition to a crying baby, other stressors that might put a child at risk for shaken baby syndrome include financial problems and a recent separation.
Also, many children who are victims of shaken baby syndrome have had previous abuse. Recognizing and reporting this abuse can help to prevent it from escalating to the point where the child is seriously injured or dies.
What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 'shaken baby syndrome is a severe form of head injury that occurs when a baby is shaken forcibly enough to cause the baby's brain to rebound (bounce) against his or her skull. This rebounding may cause bruising, swelling, and bleeding (intracerebral hemorrhage) of the brain, which may lead to permanent, severe brain damage or death. The condition is usually the result of non-accidental trauma or child abuse. Symptoms may include changes in behavior, irritability, lethargy, loss of consciousness, pale or bluish skin, vomiting, and convulsions. Although there usually are no outward physical signs of trauma, there may be broken, injured, or dislocated bones and injuries to the neck and spine.'
Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome
Of course, the most important tip to prevent shaken baby syndrome is to never shake your baby or young child.
Having a baby that is continually crying for hours and hours can be very frustrating, especially for new moms and dads. If you feel that your baby is crying too much and you are not able to cope with it, get help immediately. Your pediatrician can be a good resource for you, but if you fell like you are going to harm your baby, call 911 and seek immediate help.
If you have a difficult or fussy baby, be sure to make all caregivers aware of this and make sure that they understand the dangers of shaking a baby and that they also know to never shake a baby or young child. In addition to the story of George Lithco mentioned above, there are many personal stories on the internet about parents who lost a child after they were shaken by a day care provider.
New fathers or a mother's boyfriend are also commonly responsible for shaking a baby. In one study in Canada, 50% of identified perpetrators of shaken baby syndrome were the child's biological father. Another 20% of episodes of shaken baby syndrome were caused by a stepfather or boyfriend and only 12% by the biological mother. Be sure that, just like you are raising awareness of shaken baby syndrome in your other caregivers, make sure to discuss the dangers of shaking a baby with dad or a boyfriend or any other friends or family members that are going to help care for your child.
In addition to warning caregivers not to shake a child, you might also ask about how the caregiver:
- copes with stress
- deals with a crying baby
- disciplines a child
Another important way to stop shaken baby syndrome is to report suspected abuse before it can escalate to shaken baby syndrome. If you think a child is being abused, don't hesitate to report it.
Even if you don't think a child is being abused, if a parent or caregiver seems to be under a lot of stress and can't seem to cope with caring for their infant or child, try to get them help.
And don't hesitate to seek care for your child if you think that he or she may have been the victim of shaking baby syndrome. Remember that symptoms might include trouble breathing, seizures, vomiting, loss of consciousness, irritability, bruises, poor feeding and lethargy (sleeping more than usual).
The following national organizations and programs have local chapters in States and communities across the country and can be helpful for parents who need extra help: