Several factors contribute to cases of shaken baby syndrome: Poverty, parental & family stress, a lack of understanding about infant development or infant needs, and a failure to understand or recognize the dangers of shaking a baby. So anything that addresses these factors will help combat the problem.
Preventing shaken baby syndrome through public awareness
- For a simple demonstration, get a plastic baby doll and shake it back and forth several times for 2 or 3 seconds to illustrate how little it takes to injure or kill a child.
- Help us get the word out about shaken baby syndrome by printing a flier or brochure linked below and distributing it in whatever means you have at your disposal.
- Please link to our shaken baby syndrome page from your own website, Facebook page, or Twitter account.
Preventing shaken baby syndrome through parent education
Educating parents and other caretakers not just of the dangers involved but of better ways to respond to a crying infant can work wonders. Here are some important points to discuss:
- It’s common for children to cry uncontrollably from about 2 weeks old until about 5 or 6 months. It may ebb and flow throughout this time, and it usually has nothing to do with anything you’re doing wrong.
- Don’t take it personally! Ironically, one factor that commonly contributes to child abuse is that parents place pressure on themselves to be the perfect parent, and take pride in this. While pride can be a wonderful thing, the problem is that when things break down, the child’s crying becomes more than just a sign of distress, it’s interpreted (often subconsciously) as an insult to the caregivers ability. This only raises the parent’s stress levels and adds an undercurrent of anger to the situation. “We’re trying to get people–the whole society, not just mothers and fathers… to understand early infant crying is not because the baby is bad or because the parents are bad,” says advocate Ron Barr, founder of the PURPLE Program. (Newman, 2008)
- Talk to your baby. Voice your concerns about what you’re feeling: “Oh, Alex, I don’t understand what’s wrong with you. I really wish you would stop crying. It makes me so upset that you’re upset, and I’m feeling pretty bad and insecure as a parent right now.” Sing your feelings in song form. It may sound silly, but voicing your feelings and talking to your infant like this can cut down on your own stress and keep it manageable. Another added bonus: it tends to have a calming effect on the infant as well.
- Know when to walk away. “If you get angry, put the baby down and ask for help,” says Carole Jenny, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. (Szabo, 7-27-2009) If no one else is around, set the baby in a safe spot on the floor and leave the room for a few minutes. It won’t be disastrous for them to cry unattended for a few minutes while you take a breather. Walk outside for a moment or scream into a pillow to let off some steam. Then come back and attend to them again.
- Get physical…just not with the baby. Remember that their crying provokes a stress response, which causes a release of adrenalin that amps up your body. So step away and do some quick jumping jacks or push ups to help alleviate some of this adrenalin that is running through your body. It can ease the tension you feel and calm you down a bit… at least enough to bring a person out of the danger zone.
- Put in a set of ear plugs so that the crying isn’t so irritating, or even put on some headphones and listen to some music while caring for your infant.
Why the prevention of shaken baby syndrome is more necessary than ever
Shaken baby syndrome is one of those forms of abuse that may be growing more prevalent, in large part because the type of conditions that drive it (such as parents parenting in isolation, the amount of families under significant stress, or the extremely high standards parents put on themselves or feel others are putting on them) are only increasing as well. So it’s going to take a community effort to address this problem.