Education Key in Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 17, 2007 To prevent “Shaken Baby Syndrome,” which can seriously harm or kill infants, mothers who deliver their babies at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., receive a series of mandatory briefings, a 15-year Navy nurse who works at the center said.
“Every mother who delivers here will get educated on Shaken Baby Syndrome,” Lt. Cmdr. Maile Kalinowski, who specializes in mother and infant care at the center, said during an April 10 interview with American Forces Press Service.
Shaken Baby Syndrome can occur when frustrated parents, especially fathers, negatively react to their baby’s cries by shaking it. Each year between 10 to 20 infant deaths across the military are attributed to Shaken Baby Syndrome, according to Defense Department documents.
The mandatory briefings are provided to mothers before the birth of their baby, soon afterward, and later on during outpatient checkups, Kalinowski, a mother of three children, said.
“We call it an immunization, because we try to give (the briefings) at three different times,” Kalinowski said. Probably one of the most effective briefings, she said, is provided to mothers around two months after their baby is born.
“Most incidents of Shaken Baby Syndrome happen between four-to-six months of age,” Kalinowski said. “So, they’ve already experienced some of the irritating crying that goes on,” which usually is what causes people to shake their baby.
“So they, hopefully, will listen up a little bit more on what they can do to prevent them (from) shaking their baby.”
About 70 percent of shaken-baby cases are committed by fathers or other males, Kalinowski said, noting the majority of those incidents involve stepfathers, boyfriends or caregivers. Therefore, she said, it’s preferable that mothers and their husbands or significant others attend Shaken Baby Syndrome prevention classes together.
“We have them view a 10-minute video together,” Kalinowski explained. The video has a powerful impact, she said, noting it is based on three actual shaken-baby cases and includes interviews with the families involved.
“It is devastating to watch and it really gets their attention,” Kalinowski said of viewers’ reactions.
Also, servicemembers returning home after deployments are to receive Shaken Baby Syndrome information as part of their debriefing process, Kalinowski said.
All babies cry, Kalinowski said, noting that it’s the only way they know how to communicate their discomfort, loneliness, hunger or diaper situation.
Babies at high risk for becoming victims of Shaken Baby Syndrome cry a lot, she said. This group includes prematurely-born babies and babies that don’t feed well. Multiple-birth babies, she added, also ratchet up the volume when they communicate.
“These parents are under more stress, are getting less sleep and might act in an abnormal manner during those (crying) situations,” Kalinowski said. Parents who are getting stressed or irritated by their baby’s crying should place the baby in a safe place, like its crib, and take a time out, she said.
Or, “play some music, take your baby for a walk, take the baby for a ride in the car seat,” Kalinowski suggested.
Shaking babies is dangerous to them, primarily because their brains are in the early stages of development, Kalinowski explained. Injuries can range from death to serious head trauma – meaning skull fractures, blindness, learning disabilities and stunted growth.
Whether it’s done deliberately or accidentally, people who shake babies are committing child abuse and could go to jail, Kalinowski pointed out.
“Thirty-percent of these babies who get shaken will die,” Kalinowski said. Another 30 percent, she added, suffer brain damage and develop other long-term disabilities. She said the other 30 percent or so develop no adverse symptoms at all.
Shaken Baby Syndrome is preventable, Kalinowski said.
“It’s never ok to shake a baby,” she emphasized.
This year, DoD is partnering with the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, headquartered in Ogden, Utah, to prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome. National Shaken Baby Prevention Week is being held this week, in conjunction with National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is observed each April.
Military parents cancall a 24-hour, counseling line at 1-800-342-9647 to surface their questions about Shaken Baby Syndrome and other issues.