Inconsolable crying is the most frequently reported reason by caregivers for losing control with a child, Green said.
And it only takes a few seconds for the damage to occur.
“Because of a baby’s relatively heavy head and weak neck muscles, shaking makes their fragile brains bounce back and forth inside the skull and causes bruising, swelling and bleeding,” she explained.
Symptoms can vary from mild to severe and include loss of consciousness, lethargy, extreme irritability, decreased alertness, pale or bluish skin, vomiting, convulsions and no breathing.
Hope Galantino, clinical educator for labor and delivery at Washington County Hospital, said shaking an infant usually comes about out of frustration at not being able to soothe a fussy baby.
“When a baby starts to cry, many parents think their child is crying for a reason,” Galantino said. “But many infants cry for no reason.”
This is identified as PURPLE crying by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome.
The term PURPLE, Galantino said, is an acronym intended to help caregivers recognize when this type of crying is occurring. (See box at left.)
Green said inconsolable crying is most common in babies up to five months.
As the parent becomes frustrated in trying to soothe the baby, she said, he or she reaches a breaking point and that breaking point triggers violence.
“We want parents to know that it’s normal for babies to cry,” she said. “But when the pressure gets to you, find someone else to give you a break. If there is no support system, it’s important to know that it’s OK to put the baby safely in the crib and take a few minutes to collect yourself.”
Galantino said there is no socioeconomic, age, racial or cultural group more likely than another to shake their babies.
Parents who are unable to stop their children’s crying have one thing in common: feeling inadequate.
Giving parents the tools
In an effort to educate parents, Galantino said members of three local chapters of the Exchange Club worked together about one year ago to secure more than 1,000 DVDs called “Did You Know Your Baby Would Cry Like This.” The videos were obtained from the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome and given to the Washington County Hospital’s Family Birthing Center to pass on to new parents.
The hospital purchased an additional 1,100 copies of the DVD so they would be able to give a copy to every new parent over the next year, Galantino said.
Green said the video emphasizes steps parents can take to comfort their crying babies. The most important step, she said, is easy to remember: Never shake or hurt a baby.
It’s also important, she said, to always check with your doctor to see if there is something wrong that is causing the crying.
Parents are encouraged to watch the video before leaving the hospital, Green said. The staff is then available to answer any questions parents or caregivers might have before they take their babies home. They also are urged to show the DVD to anyone who will help take care of the baby.
“Hopefully, the DVD will make a difference,” Galantino said. “We can talk to people about not shaking their baby. We teach it. But there is no impact like watching the DVD. It’s a more effective way of reaching parents.”
Green said staff members have taken the DVD out into the community to further raise awareness about abusive head trauma. She also noted that pediatricians are aware of the DVD and have the ability to go online to purchase it.
“It’s our hope that these DVDs will save innocent lives,” she said.
Ways to comfort a baby:
• Meet the baby’s basic needs. Check to see if he is sleepy, hungry, needs burping, needs changing or is too hot or cold.
• Rock, walk, sing or dance with the baby.
• Give the baby a warm bath.
• Take the baby for a walk in a stroller or for a ride in the car.
• Hold the baby close to you with skin-to-skin contact. Breathe slowly and calmly. The baby may feel your calmness and become quiet.
• Lower any surrounding noise and lights.
These ideas won’t work every time, but they may be able to reduce crying by about 50 percent. Remember: You should always check with your doctor to see if there is something wrong that is causing prolonged crying.
— Provided by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome
For more information on PURPLE crying, visit the National Center for Shaken Baby Syndrome Web site at www.dontshake.org.
P: peak of crying
R: resists soothing
P: pain-like face
E: evening, which is when this type of crying more commonly occurs.
— National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome