April 4, 2003
Caregivers cautioned about dangers of shaking babies
By Jim Albritton
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—It’s Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Methodist Rehabilitation Center has a message for those who think that vigorously shaking a baby is a harmless way to stop the child from crying.
“One-fourth of the victims of shaken baby syndrome die,” said Lisa Uzzle Gates, coordinator of the hospital’s Think First statewide safety and injury prevention program. “And those who survive often suffer brain injuries that can lead to mental retardation, speech and learning disabilities, paralysis, seizures, blindness and hearing loss. Yet studies show that 25 to 50 percent of Americans don’t realize the dangers of shaking a baby.”
One reason for the severe injuries is babies don’t react to being shaken like an older child or an adult might, said Gary Coffey, director of Methodist Rehab’s brain injury program.
“We would minimize the impact by tightening our neck or jaw muscles, but babies don’t have protective responses like we do,” he said. “And they also don’t have the strength to control the movement of their heads.”
When shaken, their heads flop violently, and the rapid movement of the brain can shear critical nerve cells and cause bruising, bleeding and swelling, Coffey said.
Common symptoms of shaken baby syndrome include vomiting, lack of arousal, inability to follow movements, rigidity, seizures, difficulty breathing or coma, Coffey said. “If the brain swelling cuts off blood flow to the brain, the baby dies,” he said. “It’s really important that victims of shaken baby syndrome receive medical treatment quickly. The prognosis is much better if the victim can be seen during that critical first hour after being injured.”
Gates said the typical victim of shaken baby syndrome is a baby boy who is abused while in the care of his biological father or his mother’s boyfriend. “Most of the time babies are shaken because of inconsolable crying. Therefore, it’s critical that caregivers learn how to stay calm in situations like this.”
The National Exchange Club Foundation suggests the following strategies if you feel like you might be in danger of shaking your crying baby.
- Look for reasons for your child’s distress. Make sure the baby is fed, burped and dry and is not experiencing discomfort from too tight clothes, diaper rash, teething or fever.
- Try to soothe the baby with a pacifier, hugging or cuddling, a stroller ride, music or a toy.
- Don’t pick the baby up until you feel calm. Place the baby in a crib, and leave the room for few minutes. Sit down, close your eyes and count to 20. Ask a friend to take over for a while.
- Call the doctor if you think the baby is sick.
Methodist Rehab’s Think First program is aimed at young children and teenagers and tries to prevent spinal cord, brain and other traumatic injuries by focusing on bicycle, automobile, firearm, boat, swimming and diving safety. Physicians and staff at the Jackson hospital work closely with firefighters, police officers, paramedics and other health care workers to encourage children to always think first about safety and injury prevention.
Think First speakers volunteer their time to encourage children and teens to always wear seat belts when driving, helmets when riding bicycles or motorcycles and to think about what they’re doing before they get into any potentially dangerous situation.
For more information:
Shaking poses threat to infants | The Clarion-Ledger