October 24th, 2011
12:01 AM ET
Head trauma from shaken baby syndrome is the most common cause of traumatic death for infants under the age of 1.
Shaken baby syndrome occurs when a child is shaken so hard that it causes major head trauma and bleeding in the brain and or retina. When not fatal, it can lead to a host of issues such as brain damage, mental retardation, epilepsy, sight issues and learning disabilities.
But a new study in the journal Pediatrics finds that when a simple education program was implemented, hospitals in New York State’s Hudson Valley were able to reduce shaken baby syndrome cases in their hospitals by 75%.
In the Hudson Valley program, nurses distributed parent education materials including an informational leaflet and an eight-minute video explaining what shaken baby syndrome is and how to calm a crying child. Parents were also required to share this material with anyone else who might care for their baby.
The leaflet included tips such as:
• Let him listen to a repeating sound, such as a clothes dryer.
According to study author, Dr. Robin Altman, the most important message though, was telling parents “that crying is normal and it’s not something that you’ll always be able to stop in your baby, or that you need to stop in your baby.”
Ryan Steinbeigle of the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, said newborns tend to have a strong crying period beginning around 2 months, and waning around 3 to 4 months. Frequently, parents get very frustrated during this period, not understanding why their child is crying so much, and that can trigger a parent to shake their child.
Altman suggested that when the crying gets to be too much for a parent, to set the child down in a safe place and walk away. “It’s way more important to deal with the stress of your baby crying.”
When looking at the five years before the educational program was implemented, there were 14 cases of shaken baby syndrome in the region. In the three years after, there were only two cases reported. But, there is still room for improvement. The study found that while men were nearly five times as likely to shake a child as women, only 40% of fathers watched the video, compared to 85% of mothers.
Also, in the long term, educational programs can not only save lives, but save money. Head trauma that results from one case of shaken baby syndrome can result in a lifetime of costs that can total close to $10 million dollars in acute and chronic care. At the time of the study, the educational programs cost $4.50 per packet. However, since the program has now been adopted by the State of New York, the prices of the program packets will go down further. “What's in a dollar per baby born? It’s such an inexpensive program,” said Altman.
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