Local News

Parents to be Educated on Dangers of Shaking Babies

Posted January 15, 2008 11:46 a.m. EST

— Parents of newborns would receive more education about the dangers of shaking infants as part of a $7 million program being conducted by medical researchers at the University of North Carolina and Duke University.

The project, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Duke Endowment, is the largest and most comprehensive effort to address the hundreds of injuries and deaths that occur annually when crying babies are violently shaken by frustrated parents and caregivers, officials said Tuesday.

Nationally, an estimated 1,200 to 1,400 children a year receive medical treatment after being shaken. An estimated 25 percent of these children die and 80 percent of survivors are left with some form of life-long brain injury.

"As a pediatrician and a long-standing member of the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force, I know how devastating shaking a baby can be to the infant and to the family," said state Sen. William Purcell, a retired pediatrician from Laurinburg who has been involved with shaken-baby prevention efforts for more than 10 years.

"This project will share very important information that all parents can use about normal infant crying and how to manage that crying safely," Purcell said.

Preliminary, unadjusted data from a baseline survey shows that almost one in 100 parents of North Carolina children under age 2 reported that they or their partner has shaken a child. Also, 1.3 percent of mothers in the survey reported having seen somebody other than their partner shake a child under 2 within the last year.

Desmond Runyan, a professor of social medicine and pediatrics at UNC and principal investigator for the project, said a small number of the more than 2,000 children shaken each year in the state receive medical attention. Only 40 are admitted to a hospital intensive care unit, for example, he said.

"A lot more children are shaken who are not hospitalized but may have mental retardation or learning disabilities later. This shows the need for, and potential benefits of, preventing shaking," Runyan said.

The prevention project plans to provide every parent of the approximately 125,000 babies born in North Carolina annually with an intervention program called "The Period of PURPLE Crying," which helps describe the characteristics of crying in healthy infants.The program was developed by Dr. Ron Barr, a professor of community child health research and a developmental pediatrician at the University of British Columbia, and Marilyn Barr, founder and executive director of the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome.

The program includes hospital and health care provider-based parent education, a 10-minute video and an 11-page booklet that parents can share with other caregivers of their baby, such as family members and babysitters. The materials are designed to educate parents and caregivers about the hazards of shaking and gives them alternatives to use when they feel they need a respite from a crying baby, such as handing off the baby to another caregiver or going to another room while leaving the baby in its crib with the rails up for periods of no longer than 15 minutes.

"Our goal with this program is to protect those most vulnerable in our community by increasing awareness, especially among new parents, about proper childcare and the dangers of shaking," said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Center for Child and Family Health and an associate professor of psychiatry at Duke. "We hope these efforts will protect the long-term health and well-being of our newest generation."