Shaking an infant can cause brain damage

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It is normal for an infant to cry and sometimes it is difficult to understand why they are crying. It is not unusual for a parent to be stressed if their child cries. Even if you feel frustrated, helpless, and perhaps angry when they cry, never shake them! Shaking an infant puts their life in danger and could cause brain damage.

Becoming a parent is one of the biggest events in our life and although it brings immense joy it can be challenging. It can be nerve-racking if your child is constantly crying. As a parent you may feel at times that you have failed. There could be occasions when you become angry and afraid that you might harm your child. You may perhaps doubt your ability as a parent or wonder whether your child actually likes you.

Expressing a need by crying

Children cry to express different needs. There are children who cry a lot and there are children who cry very little. Understanding what your child wants becomes easier when you get to know each other. Below you can read about why infants cry and you can pick up a few tips on what you can do to console them.

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Why infants cry

An infant is a child under one year of age. There are many reasons why an infant might cry.

  • They want to be close to you
  • They are hungry
  • They want their diaper changed
  • They are tired and need to sleep
  • They are too warm or too cold
  • They are not lying comfortably
  • They need peace and quiet
  • They are ill or in pain – stomach ache for example

If you are still unable to console your child

There are many ways of consoling your child.

  • Hold them close to your body and rock them slowly
  • Carry them in a baby wrap or baby carrier
  • Sing softly to them
  • Talk to them calmly
  • Turn off the light and play soothing music
  • Take them for a walk in the pram
  • Take them for a drive in the car

What can you do if you are unable to console your child?

If you are unable to console your child you can try different solutions.

  • Take turns with someone close to you to console them
  • Phone someone and ask them to help you
  • Ask someone to look after them so that you can rest for a while
  • Try putting on ear defenders or headphones with music
  • Put them in their cot and look in on them regularly
  • Go into another room and sit down for a few minutes

Pick them up when you feel calmer              

Never shake an infant

Whatever happens and however helpless you may feel you should never shake an infant.

Shaking an infant forcibly could cause serious brain damage with lifelong consequences. An infant’s head is large in relation to their body and their neck muscles are not fully developed. An infant cannot offer any resistance if they are shaken.

When they are shaken, their brain repeatedly hits the inside of the skull, tearing the small blood vessels that pass between the brain and the cerebral membranes and causing bleeding in the brain. They could also sustain suffocation injuries due to swelling of the brain.

When an adult holds an infant’s chest too tightly, their lungs are compressed, which could cause them to stop breathing.

When should I seek medical care?

If you find it difficult to make contact with your child, if their body is limp, and/or if you suspect their breathing is irregular, call 112. Any injuries could be made worse if your child does not receive help quickly.

If your child has been subjected to any form of violence you should seek medical care to ensure they have not been injured – even if they appear to be normal. Emergency help and support is available to the whole family. 

Would you like to know more?

Talk to the midwife at your maternity clinic, or your child welfare nurse at the Child Welfare Centre. They can answer any questions you may have regarding what you have just read. Call 1177 if you would like information about children’s health and medical conditions. You can call 1177 at any time of the day or night, 365 days a year. Always call 112 immediately in case of acute illness.

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