When faced with a colicky baby, even the best and most attentive parents can feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
While ordinarily, feeding, changing a nappy, or rocking a crying baby may help to calm the fussing, when this doesn’t work, a frustrated parent may take things overboard.
In an attempt to silence the crying they may end up vigorously shaking the infant. But experts strongly warn against this practice, suggesting that shaking the baby excessively may not only result in brain damage, but it can kill the crying baby.
Studies show that frustration with an infant’s colic-associated crying is the most common reason for shaken baby syndrome (SBS)
Mothers tend to turn to baby shaking to deal with the stress of a screaming baby for hours. Studies show it can drive new parents or caregivers to reach breaking point, lose control and shake the baby out of sheer frustration and anger. Sadly, this is when permanent head injury and brain damage can occur.
Megan Faure, an occupational therapist says shaken baby syndrome is a form of head injury that occurs when a baby is shaken forcibly enough to cause the baby’s brain to rebound and bounce against the skull - similar to concussion in a rugby player’s injury.
Baby shaking may lead to swelling and bleeding on the brain, which may lead to permanent, severe brain damage, disability or death.
Shaken baby syndrome may arise in response to unstoppable crying of a newborn baby, who is otherwise healthy, but showing signs of discomfort.
Studies show that colic can affect up to one in five babies. A baby is said to be colicky if they meet the “rule of threes” criteria:
“When a baby cries excessively for three or more hours a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks, the infant is likely to have colic,” explains Faure.
Colic peaks at about six weeks, while the incidence of shaken baby syndrome peaks a little after that.
“It’s important to note that it is not colic causing the shaken baby syndrome, but rather that a colicky baby is going to cry more, which in turn raises the chances that a parent or caregiver will shake them,” she says.
There are many ways to help soothe a colicky newborn. Faure suggests the following:
Use sensory strategies such as swaddling your baby or using a white noise machine or recording.
Use the colic hold – forearm supports baby’s tummy and either your palm, or depending which way infant is turned, a slight bend in your arm cradles the baby’s head
A baby’s immature gut may battle with lactose overload in the early days, Faure suggests using lactase based colic drops which can temporarily relieve the baby’s digestive system.
She suggests parents who feel isolated should seek support or get help from specialists or professionals who will help them with the stress. Another option could be joining a mother’s support group to share ideas.
“Shaking a baby is a real danger, with life long repercussions to their health.
“For those with close family members, ask for a break from the baby and allow members to take it while you take care of yourself. When you have calmed down you can resume again,” she says.