Last week I was lucky enough to attend a lecture by Dr. Carol Berkowitz, former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She is a smart, spunky pediatrician who specializes in child abuse and had much wisdom to share regarding shaken baby syndrome (now also known as abusive head trauma). Today I’d like to share a few points I took away from her talk on this important topic.
Abusive head trauma (shaken baby syndrome) results from an infant or small child being shaken in a violent manner by a larger person. This type of shaking often results in serious brain injury or death. Despite recent news reports suggesting otherwise, the science behind abusive head trauma is sound. And, sadly, it happens all too often. It is the most common type of physical abuse in children under one year of age, and is the leading cause of death related to physical abuse of young children.
This type of abuse is hard for most everyone to talk or even think about. But, we must. Why? Because, as Dr Berkowitz suggested, studies tell us that at least in some cases it is preventable. The key to preventing more children and families from facing this kind of devastation is openness and education.
Most of the risk factors that increase the likelihood that an infant will be shaken are related to stress: unstable family situation, parental depression, history of maltreatment, domestic violence. But, the number one trigger for shaking is a crying baby and the frustration that caregivers feel when they can’t stop a baby’s crying.
We need to talk more about this. When a baby is born into the world, society’s message to parents is largely, “oh, isn’t he so cute” and, “being a parent is the most wonderful thing in the world”. And while these things are true, we don’t talk enough about the fact that parenting a young infant is also hard, very tiring, and sometimes overwhelming.
- Young infants cry a lot.
- Crying tends to peak between two weeks and four months of age.
- Some babies cry more than others.
- If your baby is crying, and you have trouble getting them to stop, this does not mean you are a bad parent.
- If you feel overwhelmed or frustrated, it is always okay to ask for help or to put your baby in their crib and walk away for a few minutes. Take a few deep breaths and wait for the feeling to pass.
- It is never okay to shake a baby in order to get them to stop crying.
The Period of Purple Crying is a proven child abuse prevention program. Their website has more detailed information about infant crying, soothing methods, and what to do when nothing works. Please spread the word.