To the editor:
Child abuse is a major problem facing our community. One of the most dangerous and tragic forms of abuse is Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). SBS happens when a caregiver violently shakes a baby or young child, causing brain injuries, cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss, learning and behavior problems, seizures, paralysis and death. Twenty-five percent of shaken babies die, and 80 percent of survivors are left with lasting medical problems. Between 1,000 and 3,000 children in the United States suffer from SBS each year. Just a few seconds of shaking can result in lifelong injury or death.
The good news is that Shaken Baby Syndrome is completely preventable. Most adults responsible for causing SBS don't mean to hurt the child. Sometimes the caregiver is frustrated because the baby will not stop crying. SBS may also be triggered by other "bad behavior" from the child, or by stress in the caregiver's personal life such as relationship or money problems. Educating parents and caregivers about the dangers of shaking a baby is a proven way to lower SBS rates. Right now, the nursing staff at The Birthplace of St. Mary's Hospital is working to educate our community on SBS through a comprehensive education program that includes increasing awareness of this problem, providing tips for soothing a crying baby, and encouraging parents to educate surrogate caregivers of the infant. We recommend that when a parent leaves their child with a caregiver to always provide numbers where either they or another support person can be reached, should the caregiver experience difficulty in soothing a crying baby. Recently we provided an educational program at the Lynch middle school, reviewing safe infant care practices for emerging young adults who may be asked to care for an infant.
Simple educational points and a plan for reaching out for support are effective prevention strategies. If you are caring for a crying baby, first check to make sure he/she is not hungry, hot or cold, sick, or that his diaper doesn't need to be changed. If the baby is still crying, try rocking the baby, rubbing his back, or singing to him/her.
If you feel overwhelmed, it is OK to place the child in a safe place (like a crib) while you take a break for five or 10 minutes. Once you have relaxed, you can try again to calm the baby. Maintain a list of people that you can call for support and relief when you are feeling overwhelmed.
For more information on SBS and tips for soothing a crying baby, the New York state Department of Health has a wonderful tool kit for infant care givers. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact Julia Shafer, director of women's services at St. Mary's Healthcare.
Julia Shafer, Amsterdam