All babies cry; sometimes it’s sniffles, sometimes it’s squalling. And sometimes it doesn’t stop.
It’s called the period of purple crying – infants between two weeks and two months old will sometimes cry incessantly, seemingly without reason. While there can be medical reasons, they can also be fine.
But if a parent’s frustration boils over, children can pay a price for something they can’t control.
“Shaken baby syndrome is a preventable tragedy,” said Gail Beckner, who works for Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies, a nonprofit. Shaking a child can cause head trauma, leading to permanent damage. Prevention begins with education, she said.
She gave a presentation on purple crying at the Butte Public Library recently. The group is working with hospitals statewide to implement an education and outreach program. St. James Healthcare is in discussions with Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies about the program.
“Arming parents with this information can help them understand that this is normal,” Beckner said. “Sometimes, no matter what you try, your baby is going to cry.
“It’s OK to be frustrated. It’s what you do with that frustration that counts.”
Reliable statistics about shaken baby syndrome can be hard to find; the trauma can be difficult to diagnose, Beckner said, and is likely under reported.
“It’s an emotional situation,” she said.
While sometimes the crying doesn’t seem to have a cause, it can be indicative of medical problems.
“Prolonged crying can have serious issues,” said St. James Healthcare pediatrician Dr. Jessie Salisbury. It could be a sign of conditions like a bowel obstruction, or even meningitis. It’s a good idea to make sure there’s not an underlying issue, she said.
If the reason isn’t medical, that doesn’t mean it’s not physical. Sometimes extra attention, loud noise or other seemingly minor factors can snowball.
“Babies don’t have an ability to control the stimulus in their environment,” Salisbury said. “Babies will get over-stimulated like everyone else.”
When they do, they simply aren’t capable of dealing with it or expressing why they're uncomfortable. So they cry.
“Their neuro-pathways are just not there,” Salisbury said. That’s when adults need to use their fully developed brains -- “they need to keep their frustration in check.”
About 30 children in 1,000 are injured from being shaken, according to Beckner.
“It really crosses all socio-economic boundaries,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important that (education) is universally administered.”