Keeping Babies and Young Children Safe
Child abuse awareness is not a fun topic to discuss, it’s one we have to address.
For parents of newborns, hospitals often provide child-abuse prevention education before the baby goes home. For babies and toddlers, we focus on what used to be called Shaken Baby Syndrome, which happens when someone shakes a baby hard enough to cause injury.
This condition now is called Abusive Head Trauma because it not only involves shaking, it can include striking, dropping or rough handling of a young child. Head trauma is the leading cause of death in child abuse cases involving infants and toddlers, and the most vulnerable age is 6-8 weeks, when babies cry the most.
Young children, especially babies, have weak necks. When they are handled roughly, their fragile brains move within their skulls, and this can cause serious injury including:
- Bleeding around the brain
- Seizures and blindness or eye damage
- Hearing loss or delay in normal development
- Cerebral palsy and damage to the spinal cord (paralysis)
- Intellectual disability and death
Breathe, Take Breaks, Get Help
Abusive head trauma usually occurs when a parent or other caregiver shakes or roughly handles a baby or toddler. Anger or frustration can be at the root of this action, and frustration from a child who will not stop crying does affect caregivers. Many parents and caregivers are unaware that shaking, striking, dropping or handling a young child roughly can cause serious injury and even death.
Taking care of an infant or young child can be challenging, especially when the child cries. Try different things to calm your baby, including feeding, changing, singing and rocking. If nothing works, stay calm and take some deep breaths. Remind yourself that your baby is not trying to make you angry or make you feel like a bad parent.
Call someone to relieve you or give you emotional support. Take a break and let your child cry in a safe place like a crib while you watch television, listen to music, and try to relax for a few minutes. Be sure to check on baby every 15 minutes to be sure he or she is safe. If you think there’s a health problem, call your provider.
Choose carefully when you let others care for your baby, and make sure anyone who is honored with the responsibility is carefully vetted, be they a professional child care provider, a boyfriend or girlfriend, along with babysitters, friends and relatives. Make sure they know about abusive head trauma and how to prevent it.
Let them know what techniques work to calm your baby, and let them know that they can call you at any time if they feel uncomfortable caring for the baby.
If you suspect that someone may have shaken or harmed your baby, get help right away. Tell your health care provider about your suspicions. Don’t let embarrassment, guilt or fear get in the way of your child’s well-being.
A doctor who is not aware that your child may have been harmed may assume that symptoms like vomiting or trouble breathing are illness related, so make sure your doctor has complete information to best help your child. With education and support, we can all work together to keep babies safe from abusive head trauma.