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Don’t Break the Egg: Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome

Baby

The fragility of a raw egg has a lot in common with the vulnerability of a baby’s developing brain.

To see how, grab a raw egg the next time you’re in the kitchen. Put the egg in a clear container with a lid, give it a good shake, and see how the egg cracks. This demonstrates what happens when an infant’s brain is shaken, a point MOMS Orange County reinforces with its clients of pregnant women, and new mothers and fathers. With Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), the protective cerebral spinal fluid is unable to cushion the brain against the blunt force to the skull.

This violent shock damages the infant’s brain by causing bruising and bleeding. In addition to causing brain damage, shaking the infant can cause permanent disabilities, such as blindness or paralysis, and in the most disturbing cases, death.

MOMS Orange County is recognizing Baby Safety Month in September by helping to educate expecting and new parents about SBS, one of the most misunderstood traumas causing preventable casualties among babies and children. Plus, MOMS Orange County teaches new families ways to cope with the stress of a crying infant and how to create a safe environment at home.

A Crying Baby Is Normal

According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome (NCSBS), SBS is the leading cause of death in abusive head trauma cases for children. Between 1,200 and 1,400 children are injured or killed by shaking every year in the United States, with 300 of these innocent babies dying every year.

However, with parental education and public awareness, this all-too-common and violent act against children could be averted. With September serving as Baby Safety Month, sponsored annually by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), the prevention of SBS takes on urgency.

The urge to shake a baby often strikes when infants cry nonstop, seemingly for no reason. During pregnancy, MOMS Orange County clients learn that crying is normal, especially during the 2nd to 4th month, even among healthy babies without colic. In fact, between 80 and 90 percent of babies unleash crying fits lasting 20 to 30 minutes.

Take a Break – Don’t Shake

Many mothers, fathers and caregivers feel guilty about ignoring their crying child and repress their own feelings of exhaustion, frustration, stress and anger – until the burden becomes too much one day, and they shake the child into silence.

MOMS Orange County helps clients recognize that leaving their babies to cry for a few minutes is okay. The nonprofit organization, based in Santa Ana, Calif., gives pregnant clients information created by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) about SBS, also called abusive head trauma, at their 32- to 36-week prenatal visit.

Plus, highly trained Maternal Child Health Coordinators supported by Registered Nurse Case Managers conduct pre- and post-natal family home visits. During these visitations, MOMS Orange County reinforces the directive that shaking a baby is never acceptable.

Instead, the Maternal Child Health Coordinators, who speak English, Spanish and Vietnamese, offer clients reminders worth passing along to other families, including:

  • Babies cry for many reasons during the first several months of their lives. This is normal.
  • When a baby is crying, check to see if the diaper should be changed. Your baby may be crying because of the uncomfortable feelings. Without verbal skills, infants also cry when they are hungry, too hot or cold, or feel the need to burp.
  • Sometimes, parents can soothe their infants by rocking them in their arms, walking their offspring in a stroller or taking them for a drive protected by a car seat manufactured for the child’s height and weight.
  • It can be acceptable to put a baby in a crib or other safe place to give parents time to walk away, take a deep breath and count to 10 and return to their child.

Finally, parenting is not a solo adventure. Frustrated new mothers or fathers should call someone close to them to ask for emotional support or to visit and hold the baby while the parent takes a breather.

In addition to gaining information about SBS prevention from MOMS Orange County or AAP, the Centers for Disease Control produces a guide, downloadable here.

By focusing on positive parenting and watching for the warning signs of SBS, parents can bring an end to this preventative health crisis and crime together.

With more than 39 years of experience in maternal/child health, Pamela Pimentel, RN, CEO of MOMS Orange County, is an expert when it comes to mothers and babies. Since 2000, Pimentel has led MOMS Orange County in helping at-risk mothers and their families have healthy babies through the nonprofit’s services of providing access to prenatal care, health screenings, infant development screenings, health education and referral services through monthly home visits and group classes. Among her many awards and accolades, she has been honored as March of Dimes Nursing Executive of the Year, as the National Latina Business Woman Leader of the Year, and with Senator Lou Correa’s “Women Making a Difference” Award. Pimentel is also an assistant clinical professor for the Program in Nursing Science at the University of California, Irvine. To learn more about Pimentel and MOMS Orange County, visit momsorangecounty.org.

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