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Never Shake a Baby

by Jeri Carr

Never shake a baby, because shaking a baby--even just a few shakes--can seriously hurt or even kill him. When someone hurts a baby by violently shaking him or causing his head to strike something, this serious form of child abuse is called Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Babies have large heads and weak neck muscles, so a baby's head flops back and forth when he is shaken violently. His brain and the blood vessels connecting the skull to the brain are fragile and immature, and his brains are soft because they are still growing. His brain bounces about his skull during a shaking, and this can cause the blood vessels to tear away and blood to pool inside the skull. It can also result in spinal cord injury and eye damage. Possible injuries include brain damage, blindness, paralysis, or seizures, and one third of the cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome diagnosed each year die.

It usually occurs when, out of frustration or anger, a baby's caretaker shakes a baby who won't stop crying. Most commonly, the caretakers who abuse a child in this way are men and the second most common are female babysitters. A child should never be left with a caretaker who seems uneasy or short-tempered around babies. Also, anyone who takes care of babies needs to be told about the dangers of shaking a baby and that it must never be done.

When caring for a baby, realize that babies cry to communicate their needs, not out of a desire to manipulate, not because they don't like you, not because they are selfish: a crying baby is simply trying to get his needs met. Don't take his crying personally. If you can't figure out what is wrong, and you are sure he is not sick, he may just need to be cuddled or carried around. Try to relax and be accepting of his cries and just love him.

Ideas to help calm a crying baby

  1. Pick him up immediately when he starts crying or hopefully before--watch for pre-cry cues. Babies are happier and easier to console if their needs are met promptly.
  2. Consider wearing him in a soft carrier or sling or simply holding him a lot. Most babies cry less if they are held more.
  3. Check out the basics. . .
    • see if he is hungry or if he wants to nurse (whether for hunger or comfort)
    • see if his diaper needs changed
    • make sure he is not too hot or too cold
    • burp him (a baby can be burped by gently rubbing or patting his back while his head rests on your shoulder)
  4. If you can't nurse him, try helping him find his hand or thumb to suck on, offering him your pinky to suck on (clip your nail short, wash your finger, and put it in his mouth with the fingernail resting on his tongue), or offering a pacifier.
  5. Take baby for a walk outside.

If nothing seems to work, be assured that even an inconsolable baby will benefit from your calm closeness and warm, loving touch, but if you find yourself getting angry at all his crying, put baby in a safe place and take a break. Do whatever it takes to relax: splash water on your face, take deep breaths, drink something relaxing such as a cup of hot chamomile tea, call a friend. Hopefully a few minutes away will help you calm down, but if it takes longer, be sure to check on baby at least every 10 to 15 minutes. If you can, ask someone to come and help you care for him. Be sure to never, ever shake a baby.

This article was first published on Suite101.com.


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