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Shake a rattle, not a baby
Ms. Tracy demonstrates the simulator doll to Dionna Samuel, 8, and her dad, Tech. Sgt. Darnell Samuel, 81st Training Support Squadron, during Child Pride Day, April 24. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)
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Shake a rattle, not a baby

Posted 5/12/2010   Updated 5/12/2010 Email story   Print story


by Paula Tracy
Family advocacy outreach manager

5/12/2010 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss.  -- If you attended Child Pride Day last month, you may have glimpsed an interesting sight at the family advocacy program display table -- a life-size shaken baby syndrome simulator doll.

What makes this training doll so unusual is its transparent plastic head, which reveals an anatomically accurate brain inside. Small symbols on the outside of the baby's head indicate brain location for specific body function; for example, the frontal lobe displays symbols for speech, motor skills, and reasoning, the occipital lobe a symbol for interpretation of visual stimuli. Toss the crying baby into the air, jiggle it on your knee, run up and down the hall with it in your arms -- nothing negative happens. But if it is violently shaken for 3-5 seconds, tiny circuits in the brain begin to visibly light up to pinpoint damage to specific body functions as it is sustained. And when the baby suddenly stops crying -- well, you can draw your own conclusion.

Not surprisingly, when the squalling simulator is handed to a training participant to shake in mock anger, virtually everyone hesitates ("Oh no--I can't shake this baby; it's just not right!"). Usually, they have to be coached along. After using this training tool for a short time, it's amazing to see the expressions of powerful insight it suddenly evokes on the faces of the participants: "I hardly shook it! I just can't believe it was so easy to silence this baby ..."

Shaken baby syndrome is caused when an adult shakes a child back and forth in a whiplash motion. Delicate veins in the baby's brain tear and bleed, which causes pressure and then swelling of the brain. If the swelling and pressure aren't stopped, the child will die.

Consider these facts provided by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome.

An estimated 1,200 to 1,400 children are injured each year in the U.S. and about 25 percent will die. Those who survive often suffer severe, lifelong disabilities that may require constant personal and medical attention, such as cerebral palsy, blindness or paralysis.

Victims of SBS are usually less than 1 year old, and most are younger than 6 months.

Offenders are usually caregivers, and 60-70 percent of them are male, usually the father or the mother's boyfriend.

The No. 1 trigger for SBS is inconsolable crying.

SBS is tragic, heartbreaking, and completely preventable. Parents and caregivers need to know and understand the dangers of shaking an infant or small child. New parents especially need to be reassured that their baby may cry even if nothing is wrong. In fact, crying is normal and healthy-- babies cry!

New dads just returning home from a deployment should pay particular attention. Naturally they'll be eager to forge a relationship with new babies born in their absence. But bonding with a newborn takes time, and expectations of immediate connection can set that dad up for feelings of disappointment and frustration that can lead to stress -- even anger.

It's essential that parents actually discuss a plan for what to do if their baby does cry... and cry... and cry.

First, ensure that the baby's basic needs are met. Could she be hot? Hungry? Itchy? Rule out all those common possibilities. Use stress management strategies that might also soothe the baby, like a walk around the block in the stroller or playing soft music. If you have a back-up caregiver, call so you can get a break. Finally, if all else fails, put the baby down in a safe place, close the door and take a timeout. Let the baby cry until you have calmed down. Both of you will be glad you did.

For more ideas or to talk with someone who really understands, call Donna Gibson in the new parent support program, 376-3453.

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