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SALT LAKE CITY — A newborn baby. One exhausted parent. Two o'clock in the morning and the baby is still crying. It's the perfect storm.
You would never think to harm your infant, yet in that moment a parent might lose control and abuse his or her baby. Unlike other types of abuse, this particular form is usually not done intentionally or out of malicious intent. In fact, the abusing adult may be a caring, normal person like you or me.
But in one moment, that can all change.
Shaken Baby Syndrome occurs when an adult, frustrated and angry with an infant, shakes the baby violently. It is also known as "abusive head trauma" and is a little-known yet most common type of infant abuse. A caregiver momentarily succumbs to the frustration of responding to a crying baby by shaking.
It is important that parents and caregivers know the dangers of shaking and make others aware as well.
Why is shaking a baby dangerous?
A baby's neck is too weak to support its heavy head. A baby's brain and the blood vessels connecting the skull to the brain are fragile and immature. Therefore, when a baby is shaken, its head flops back and forth, causing serious brain injury. The brain ricochets about the skull, causing blood vessels to tear away and blood to pool inside the skull. This can lead to irreparable damage to the brain, retinal detachment or even death.
If found to be guilty of harming a baby in this manner, an adult can be prosecuted for child abuse in the first degree and imprisoned.
So, what do we do with a crying baby?
I've taken care of my fair share of inconsolable infants. You have to wonder at a newborn with such tiny lungs who can produce so much sound! Once the child has been diapered, fed and burped, but continues wailing, what's next?
I'd like to offer a list of 10 things to do to calm your colicky baby.
1. Take the baby for a walk outside in a stroller or for a ride in the car seat
When the baby is in another device and your hands are wrapped around the handle or a steering wheel, you are physically removed from holding/hurting the baby. Just getting out of the house gives the parent a breath of fresh air and a new perspective. These two activities have a calming effect on the baby because the purr of the engine or rhythmic rocking of the stroller. For those who have a jogging stroller, some exercise for your lungs while the baby is exercising his/her lungs can be good for you both.
2. Hold the baby against your chest, take deep breaths and count to 10.
Or a hundred. If you are agitated, most likely the baby will be too. Breathing slowly and deeply focuses your attention on your body and away from the fussy little person. The baby, in response, will pick up on your body's signal to calm down.
3. Gently massage the baby.
Massaging a baby has a calming effect on you and the baby because of the stroking connection and soft verbal cues. I used infant massage and my children loved it so much, I continued with them for many years.
4. Rock, walk or dance to music with the baby.
Soft music can calm you and the infant. And if you sing the music yourself or speak in soothing tones, even better! Rather than a slow swaying rock, colicky babies tend to prefer a gentle, controlled jiggle.
5. Try different 'holds.'
There may be one hold that is more successful than others; however, some babies like to be held facing out while others like facing the parent. Some babies like to be on their backs while others prefer their stomachs or sides.
6. Wrap the baby tightly or give a warm bath.
Even if the baby doesn't like to be bathed, parents find miraculous results with a properly swaddled infant. We know how to wrap a burrito; why have so many parents not learned how to snugly wrap a baby? This one strategy is a game changer.
7. Lower any surrounding noise and lights.
Some babies are more sensitive to stimulation; their temperaments don't tolerate much external chaos.
8. Play a sound like a vacuum cleaner, dishwasher or hair dryer
Basically, you want to create white noise. There are even CDs and other audio players that play these sounds, including "womb" noises. Another technique is to repeat "shh shh shh" sounds in the baby's ear — sounds to mimic the blood flow and heartbeat the infant heard in utero.
9. Call a friend or relative.
Let others know you are stressed and needing a break. Call someone you can trust to take over for a while. Then get away, get some rest, and take care of yourself.
10. See a doctor to check out physiological problems.
My first baby cried pretty much non-stop (or so it seemed at the time) for the first six months, until I figured out he was lactose intolerant and switched my diet and his formula. Other babies may have acid reflux or some other condition that causes them physical distress. If you don't get answers from one doctor, keep trying until you have explored every angle. Don't forget to monitor your health as well. A difficult baby may trigger postpartum depression, which only exasperates the problem.
Next time your baby's distressed cries start distressing you, explore these options. If all else fails and you are at your wit's end, put the little noise maker down and walk away for a brief period. Come back when you feel safe again. Veteran parents everywhere salute you for doing your best during these sleep-deprived years.
Julie K. Nelson is a mother, wife, professor, author of "Keep It Real and Grab a Plunger: 25 tips for surviving parenthood" and "Parenting With Spiritual Power," and is a contributor on radio and TV. Her website is www.aspoonfulofparenting.com.