Shaken Baby Syndrome: Preventing Permanent Damage
By Leah Kackley
With very rare exceptions, all parents have experienced prolonged periods when their infant child could not be consoled. The stress of not being able to calm or comfort a child can be overwhelming. The tragedy is that sometimes this stress leads to the caregiver violently shaking the baby to get him to stop crying. According to Dr. Kieran Moran, forensic pediatrician at Sydney Children’s Hospital, babies are victims of violent shaking mainly in their first year of life, as that is often when they cry inconsolably and when parents and caregivers become most frustrated. The current statistics from National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome are shocking. One out of four of those shaken babies will be killed. Of those who survive, 80 percent will suffer from some form of permanent damage. This, dear parents, is serious.
No one denies that there is a physical reaction to repeated, prolonged episodes of crying. It is of life-saving, crucial importance to understand that a response to crying, when in that physical state, can have life-altering consequences. A local mom who wishes to remain anonymous expressed her deep understanding of this mental and physical reaction. She shared: “It was 11 at night. The baby had been crying for a solid hour. I had done everything I knew to do. I could feel my anger rising. Thankfully, my husband was there and noticed. He was able to intervene, even though he was stressed out too. The baby eventually wore herself out and went to sleep, but it took a while for us to feel ‘okay’ ourselves. It was scary.”
That is The Line. When stress begins to morph into irrational anger at the child who is just being an infant, bad things can happen. Catherine Phillippi, MD is a local pediatrician with Children’s Medical Group. She says “Everyone must have a network of people surrounding them during the newborn period. Anyone may become the one person who notices an extremely fussy baby and steps in to intervene.” She reminds all caregivers that there are so many medical reasons why infants may experience excessive crying, including, sometimes, for no reason at all. But crying can often be a sign that something is wrong. “For children under two months old, fever is not a dependable indicator of illness. Babies that young can have low temp, lethargy, irritability or inconsolable crying when they are fighting an infection.” In addition, Dr. Phillippi reminds everyone that babies that are in a high stress environment can be excessively fussy. Often, overwhelmed first-time parents, inexperienced caregivers, and those who don’t have a good support system create an environment that exacerbates the stress level, unbeknownst to them.
Shaken Baby Syndrome is preventable. First, walk away. If you feel your emotions taking over, have enough self-control to put the baby down where she will be safe, into a crib or a pack-n-play. And step out of the room to calm down. Say a prayer. Have a glass of water. Ask a spouse to help, if he is nearby. This is where having a pediatrician with a 24-hour call service is valuable. A nurse can ask questions and recommend possible solutions that will at the very least make the caregiver feel less isolated in the problem. Call the pediatrician’s office to make an appointment to have a doctor verify if there is something treatable causing the distress. Dr. Phillippi advises caregivers to seek help with the care of the child and potentially contact a therapist or their own physician.
Use the family or church community to help stay connected to the sense that someone has already paved the way of this difficult path.
“This Too Shall Pass” is almost impossible to remember in the heat of the moment. And parents can and will make mistakes. But this is a mistake that must not be made. Too many times there’s no going back from it. The infant’s cry is biologically designed to cause a reaction in a caregiver, so allow that reaction to be one of compassion and acceptance to hopefully ward off anger. The babies’ protection is ours to provide.
Leah O’Gwynn Kackley lives and works in the Rez/Fannin area with her husband, Jason, and their three kids. She was pretty tightly wound with her first child, so she understands how quickly stress can get skewed in the wee hours of the night. She hopes all those who are caring for children will remember to love first and walk away during the moments when they can’t.