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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 1, No. 3
Spring 1996

"Don't Shake the Baby" (Profile of a Prevention Program)

The story is too common to be dismissed. You respond to your local hospital's call about a potential "shaken baby." You meet a young couple with a two month old child--their first. Mother is the primary caregiver but went out for a few hours to grocery shop and get her hair cut. The baby seemed fine when she left but when she returned the baby wouldn't wake up from his nap and seemed to be having trouble breathing. She called 911. Dad reports that the baby was fussy all afternoon but finally went to sleep. Or he says the child fell off the bed but seemed okay.

But as the medical evidence comes back, the story comes out. Dad became impatient with a crying baby he could not soothe. Out of frustration, he shook the child, not knowing this could cause blindness, brain-damage, paralysis--even death.

It is the impulsiveness and lack of knowledge about shaking that the "Don't Shake the Baby" campaign is trying to counteract. The results of the project are detailed in an article by Jacy Showers in a 1992 volume of Child Abuse and Neglect. The project, piloted in Franklin County, Ohio, had two goals--to increase parental knowledge about the dangers of shaking a child and, by doing this, to reduce shaking-related injuries and deaths. A related goal included teaching parents to handle an infant's excessive crying.

Following delivery, 3,293 new mothers where given a "crying card" detailing why babies cry and what parents can do to soothe them. The card also relates the dangers of shaking and gives parents alternatives when they cannot tolerate the crying another moment.

A follow-up survey was sent to participating mothers asking them how helpful they perceived the information from the crying card to be. Ninety-five percent of mothers who were given the card read it. Seventy-five percent said the information was helpful to them and that they were much less likely to shake their babies having read the card. Many said they felt other parents needed information like this.

While these results indicate that an educational campaign about shaking may be useful, one can't help but notice that the project was not directed at those most likely to shake an infant--young fathers or mother's boyfriends, often in their early twenties, who are not regular caregivers to the infant. Mothers may share the crying card with other caregivers, but directly targeting males would also seem to be an appropriate prevention strategy. In addition, the article did not report whether rates of shaking went down following the prevention effort.

Reference

Showers, J. (1992). Don't shake the baby: The Effectiveness of a prevention program. Child Abuse and Neglect, 16, 11-18.

1996 Jordan Institute for Families