Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How could anyone do this to a child?

I regularly receive calls from reporters covering stories about shaken babies. The questions are always the same. How could anyone do this to a child? How can these tragedies be prevented?

Here are some facts everyone should know: The most frequent trigger involved in these shaking incidents is infant crying and fussiness. All of us, whether we are parents or not, have likely experienced that physical gut-wrenching reaction when we hear a baby's sharp or constant cry. It commands our immediate attention. Mother Nature intended it to be like that to give babies a way to ensure their survival. If they only wimpered softly when they needed to be fed, or were cold and wet, or needed to feel close to us, adults might not respond and babies' critical needs might not be met.

Some people manage to cope well when confronted with a fussy, crying infant or child particularly when they have the support of their spouse, partner, or other family and friends. But others, particularly those already trying to deal with other life stresses or who don't have much experience with infants, just find the crying intolerable and they want it to stop. When their efforts to quiet the baby don't work, their frustration can turn to anger and escalate to violence. Without thinking, they shake the baby to get it to stop crying. They don't realize that that brief moment of violence can mean the death or permanent injury of an innocent child. That it can mean for them a lifetime of remorse, the end of a marriage, the ripping apart of a family, the end of their own freedom.

Some people who have been victims of childhood abuse can find infant crying especially difficult. Their lack of self-esteem and confidence can make them wonder if the baby is trying to tell them they are a bad parent or if their baby is just trying to ruin their day or night. Babies aren't capable of these motivations. They just want to be cared for and loved and crying is their only way to communicate that.

Some babies can cry alot. Crying bouts of 45-minutes adding up to four or five hours a day is not unusual in our culture. But no matter which culture you live in, one thing about babies is universal - their crying begins to increase at two weeks of age, peaks at around two months, and gradually begins to decrease after that. Just knowing this can help parents feel more prepared and lets them know it won't last forever.

Parents of newborns learn alot these days about infant feeding and that's a good thing. But they learn little or nothing about infant crying, how to soothe their babies, what to do when soothing doesn't work, how to take care of themselves when the crying is getting to them, and also how to make sure their babies are safe when left in the care of others.

If you'd like to learn more about SBS and more information about infant crying, infant soothing and ways to protect your child, please go to my previous blog and there you will find the link to our brochure, Infant Crying and Soothing: What You Need To Know To Keep Your Baby Safe. You can download it, email it to a friend or even request a free brochure be sent to you by calling 800-CHILDREN if you're a Massachusetts caller or 617-742-8555, Ext 3 if you are calling from another state.

If your local hospital is interested in establishing an In-Hospital SBS Prevention Program for parents of newborns, please call us and we can tell you about our two-DVD training set, "SBS Prevention: A Training for Maternity Nurses, Nurse Educators and The Parents They Serve." This narrated one-hour training has been approved by the MA Association of Registered Nurses and it contains all the tools and documents necessary to start a program in your community.

If you are looking to train professionals or parents in a variety of non-hospital community settings, call or email me and I can tell you about our narrated DVDs, "SBS Prevention: A Training for Family Serving Professionals" and our presentation for parents and caregivers. The latter is appropriate for use with many different groups, including mothers support groups, foster parenting groups, nanny and au pair organizations, home visitation programs, babysitting instruction programs, etc.

We can each play a role in ending the tragedy of SBS. Sadly, the children I mentioned at the start of this blog are lost. Their parents and caregivers did not have the information that could have saved them from committing their terrible actions. But if we can build a movement of concerned and caring persons - people just like you - who are advocates for SBS prevention, we will surely save babies lives. Let's do it together, all of us.

Jetta