Avoiding Shaken Baby Syndrome by parents and caregivers: Sometimes parents need a ‘time-out’

SOUTHERN UTAH – Newborns cry more often than some new parents or caregivers are prepared for. Recent deaths in the Salt Lake City area due to Shaken Baby Syndrome by parents and babysitters have urged experts to caution anyone in charge of caring for a young child to be extra careful.

“… it’s vital parents recognize that infants tend to cry, a lot. Parents need to know how to soothe themselves,” said Dr. J.E. Carosso, Psy.D.

Carosso suggested parents take a few deep breathes, tell themselves the crying will pass and put the child in a safe place while they take a break, which may include getting help from a spouse, relative or trusted neighbor.

“Parents need to understand that some infants cry for extended periods of time, and have what’s called ‘colic,’” he said. “They can seek help from the pediatrician, but oftentimes there’s not much a doctor can do; it has to run its course. In such a case, it’s even more important for a parent to have adequate resources to allow for breaks, and to use soothing techniques.”

Soothing techniques for children can include rubbing their back, using a pacifier, rocking and singing, walking the child in a buggy or taking them for a car ride.

“Parents need to be aware of their limitations and that ‘going it alone’ may not be a good option for some,” Carosso warned. “If a parent feels that they may lose control or hurt their child, they need to immediately put the child down in a safe place, take a breather for a few minutes, tell themselves that ‘this is what babies do,’ call somebody, re-group and remind themselves it’s going to pass.”

No one should shake a baby, said Debra Holtzman, J.D., M.A., not in anger or in play. She said Shaken Baby Syndrome is a real danger for babies.

“SBS may be caused by vigorously shaking an infant by the shoulders, arms or legs,” Holtzman said. “SBS is more likely to occur when an adult is angry and fun is the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. A baby’s neck muscles are too weak to support his head, which is disproportionately large for his body. That’s why if he is shaken, his head will flop back and forth, leading to serious injury. In addition, his brain and the blood vessels connecting the skull to the brain, are fragile and immature.”

Holtzman said that when a child is shaken, their head would actually rotate inside the skull cavity. She said shaken babies could die, or become blind or mentally disabled. She said children up to the age of 5 are at risk, but babies under the age of 1 are at the highest risk.

View SBS simulator

“Whatever the cause, be assured that the baby is not crying to irritate or annoy you,” she said. “Most of the time you can figure out what the child wants and calm her down by taking care of her immediate needs. After you’ve tended to the baby’s needs, sometimes it is okay to just let her cry. Make sure she’s been fed, then check for dirty diapers, and determine the comfort level in the room. After that, put her back into her crib and leave the room. You can still peek in every 10 minutes or so to make sure she’s okay, but don’t get upset if she continues to cry. This, too, will pass. It is important to stay calm, because the calmer you are, the calmer your child will be. Sometimes you just have to take a ‘time-out.’ Before you lose control, put the baby in her crib and take some time for yourself, away from baby.”

Not all babies who die from SBS are the cause of frustrated parents. In a recent case in Northern Utah, it was the babysitter who was arrested in the death of a young child.

Annie’s Nannies suggests always checking someone’s references and background and find someone that will match well with the child. Training with the caregiver and weekly meetings are important in ensuring that the caregiver and child are a good match for each other.

For more tips on choosing a caregiver, visit Household Staffing.

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Copyright 2011 St. George News. This material may not be published or rewritten without written consent.

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1 Comment

  • george October 13, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    It’s well-intentioned, but the advice to check references and background is not only incomplete, but likely to give a false sense of security if that’s the only thing parents do.

    Far more important is to not only ask a child care provider what they know about the causes and consequences of shaking a child, but how they plan to cope with the inevitable moments of frustration that come when caring for a child.

    If your prospective provider doesn’t have a plan because she (I recognize the fact that most providers are women) doesn’t anticipate such moments, you’re either dealing with the supernatural or someone who isn’t prepared and isn’t going to tell you when she isn’t feeling capable of staying in control.

    The second most important thing is to recognize the fact that those moments are inevitable, and that there will be times when the provider is sick or otherwise not as capable as she usually is, and that it is perfectly OK for that person to call you and say “today’s not a good day for me.”

    If she has that permission, she can decide whether to use it. When someone doesn’t have a choice, the stress level goes up, and the probability of a good outcome goes down.

    It’s especially important that a provider know about the “Golden Hour”: doctors can do much more to treat head injury if it is brought to their attention in the first hour after injury. If something happens, a provider must acknowledge it, and call 911. Trying to hide it can only hurt.

    We learned these things the hard way.

    Our eleven month old son was shaken by his child care provider: a 54 year old grandmother, with four children of her own, who was also caring for her one year grandson that day.

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