The Horror of Shaken Baby Syndrome
My community has been recently rocked with the news of the death of a two month old. Her father has been accused of shaking his two month old daughter. He is officially being charged with her death. The mothers work place is holding a fundraiser to pay for the funeral. The community is devastated. In all the news articles and Facebook comments I have read, not one has approached how preventable Shaken Baby Syndrome is. Amid all of the pitch fork toting- cries, not a note of help. Not a single article gave a resource for parents who are at their wits end and dealing with the very typical period of purple crying.
What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?
The mayo clinic describes shaken baby syndrome:
Shaken baby syndrome … is a serious brain injury resulting from forcefully shaking an infant or toddler.
Shaken baby syndrome destroys a child’s brain cells and prevents his or her brain from getting enough oxygen. Shaken baby syndrome is a form of child abuse that can result in permanent brain damage or death
The fact of the matter is, babies have large heads and weak necks. So infants necks cannot properly support their heads. To explain, the head size of an infant is approximately 1/4 of their body mass- compared to the 1/7th of their mass in adults. If a baby is shaken, their fragile brain moves back and forth in their skulls, causing bleeding, swelling, and bruising. frequently, this can result in death.
Symptoms of Shaken Baby Include:
- Cool, pale, or blue skin
- Poor feeding or vomiting
- Weakness, sleepiness, or difficulty waking your baby
- Blood or blood spots in the eyes
- Bulging soft spot on your baby’s head
- Seizures or coma
- Trouble breathing or slow breathing
So frequently, we live in a “it can’t happen to me” world. Certainly we don’t want to believe our child will every be hurt. Abused. Damaged. Killed. However the truth of the matter is, it happens. And it happens much more frequently than we ever expect. Abusive Head Trauma (AHT), or another term for Shaken baby syndrome, isn’t just a crime. It’s a public health issue.
Nearly all victims of AHT suffer serious, long-term health consequences such as vision problems, developmental delays, physical disabilities, and hearing loss. At least one of every four babies who experience AHT dies from this form of child abuse. (Taken from the CDC Website)
Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome
So what can be done? First, the biggest steps we can take, as family members, neighbors, friends, and caregivers, is to watch out for each other. We are our village. By All means, lets educate ourselves. Let us BE the nosy neighbor. Be the loving friend. There is not a parent alive who hasn’t reached that point where you just feel lost. Every nursing new mother knows what it feels like to feel touched out, exhausted, and like you just aren’t enough. Certainly, you ARE enough for your child. Your baby will be ok. First, keep your baby safe. Ultimately, keep yourselves sane. Walk away and catch your breath. Then find your village and reach out. Chances are, we have been there too.
Child abuse happens in every walk of life, every educational and socioeconomic background. Ultimately, do not assume that because someone comes from an educated background, or seems like “good people” that they aren’t falling apart behind closed doors.
If you see something, say something
Know the signs. The mother in the local news story came home from a surgery, saw her baby napping, and went to lay down. However, not knowing the signs, she did not know to speak up or take her baby in for care right away. Provided that she knew the symptoms of Shaken Baby, the information and quick action could of saved her baby.
Inform. Be certain that the person caring for your child knows it is safe to lay the child down in a crib and walk away if the screaming gets too much. Make it clear that they have a resource- you- and not to be afraid to reach out.
Be supportive. Let your friend, neighbor, sister, brother, know that the period of purple crying is normal. That they are not doing anything wrong and it will get better soon. Don’t just offer help. Be there. So many new parents are afraid of coming across like they don’t know how to take care of their child so they don’t reach out. Be the safe place for them.
Speak up. If you feel a child you know isn’t getting the care they need. If you know the signs of AHT, don’t hesitate. Listen to your gut. If you see a parent friend who seems over tasked, worn thin, step in, say something. Better an unnecessary investigation or a damaged friendship than a permanently injured child.
Purple Crying in the fourth trimester is NORMAL.
Shaken baby syndrome is PREVENTABLE.
Perhaps now is the time we put down the pitch forks. Moreover, now is the time we stop judging each other. Here, now- this is the time to start reaching out, offering support, being a friend. It’s easy to judge. It’s easy to spout out on social media. To click a share button, or add a horrified emoticon on a post is easy. However there is a much more difficult task- to climb out from behind our smart phone, to take an exhausted parents hand, to look them in the eye, and say- “How can I help?”
Finally, let us embrace our online village. Tell us about a time you felt lost on your parenting journey. What helped? How did you cope? Has someone you know been touched by Shaken Baby Syndrome? Was it preventable?
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