Babies get shaken most after periods of inconsolable crying. Since April is Child Abuse Prevention month, here’s some information on abusive head trauma (previously know as “shaken baby syndrome”) and ways you can help support new parents with babies who cry.

All babies cry. But some babies cry more (see the graph in the video). Babies do follow predictable patterns in crying: most babies start crying around 2 weeks of age and their crying peaks by 2 months, then tends to resolve around 3 to 4 months of age. But there are some babies who simply cry more than others. Dr Ronald Barr has researched crying in infants for over 30 years and developed the PURPLE period of crying based off data on all types of infants. Learning about the PURPLE period so you can help reassure families that they aren’t doing ANYTHING WRONG when they have a fussy baby. It’s okay that a baby fusses and cries, particularly at peak times (around 2 months of age, in the evening), our job as parents and community members is to support parents dealing with this fussiness.

Crying is aggravating to all of us. When I spoke with Dr Ken Feldman, a pediatrician and expert in shaken baby syndrome (now called abusive head trauma), he reminded me of a startling finding. He mentioned a North Carolina study found that 20% of parents surveyed admitted to shaking a baby out of frustration at some point.

You’re not alone if you’ve felt overwhelmed while caring for a cranky baby.

Take turns soothing fussy babies. Put babies in their cribs on their backs if you get really frustrated. It’s always okay to walk away from a really cranky baby for a 10-15 minute break!

Abusive Head Trauma:

  • Abusive head trauma results from shaking of the head of an infant or shaking an infant causing their head to hit an object or the floor.
  • The forces inside the head when the brain rams up against the skull can cause swelling and damage of the brain. These forces can cause devastating injuries in part, because the whole brain can be involved. Some children die from these injuries.
  • Neurologic impairments are common in over 65% of babies who were shaken as infants or young toddlers. Blindness is seen in around 40% of babies who were shaken, for example.
  • Parents who are stressed may be more likely to shake a baby. A 55% increase in shaking of infants was seen after 2008, coinciding with the recession. Fortunately, rates are now thought to be declining but remain above previous norms. For example, here in Seattle area before the recession hit, experts cared for 1 baby a month on average in the hospital for severe injuries from shaking. After 2008, there was a spike in injuries where experts were caring for about 3 babies each month. Rates this past year are declining to about 1 1/2 babies per month seen with severe injuries.
  • Over 1/2 of babies who were shaken have longterm behavioral problems.
  • All of these challenges and developmental delays are preventable. It will take an entire community of support to prevent all fo these injuries from occuring.

Things For Parents & Family On Infant Crying:

  1. No parent enjoys a baby’s cries. Parents who have fussy babies can be faced with a frustrating challenging task. Find ways to support those you know with cranky, fussy babies who cry a lot.
  2. Make every effort to help soothe your baby when crying, but know that sometimes your baby may cry despite your awesome parenting skills.
  3. Some babies cry for health reasons. If you ever are concerened that your baby is crying because they are sick, injured or unwell, DON’T EVER HESITATE to go in and see the pediatrician.
  4. All babies cry and most will peak in the minutes/hours they cry around 2 months of age. 
  5. Learn about the PURPLE period of crying so you understand what to expect.
  6. Parents need to get their own sleep, their own exercise, their own de-stressors, too. Whenever you can, offer to provide respite for a tired, new parent with a fussy baby.