Doctor to parents: Take a break from crying babies

When a baby cries, most parents will try anything to soothe the screaming child. But, local experts say sometimes the best thing a frustrated parent can do is walk away from their crying baby.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports shaken baby syndrome is a leading cause of child-abuse death in the United States. When a child is shaken, their brain collides with their skull, causing swelling and damage. The CDC reports nearly all babies who are shaken suffer serious health consequences, including long-term behavioral problems, blindness or brain damage. Approximately one in four shaken babies die from the trauma, the agency reports

Earlier this month a Fife man was charged for assaulting his infant son. The man told police that the baby's cries woke him up and said "I must have shaken him." Police found the child on the floor with a fractured skull and hemorrhages in both his eyes, which will likely leave him with permanent vision impairment.

According to the CDC, the most common event leading up to shaking is inconsolable crying.

But, Dr. Yolanda Evans at Seattle Children's Hospital believes the problem isn't the crying, it's how parents deal with it.

"Stress plays a big role," Evans said. "No parent wants to hurt their child on purpose; it's just that they're pushed to the edge."

Evans says all babies go through a developmental phase where they cry more often, typically between 2 weeks and 4 months of age. Dr. Ronald Barr, a developmental pediatrician at teh University of British Columbia, named this the Period of PURPLE Crying. Some babies cry more than others, but Evans said all parents should expect their babies will cry, and the crying will lessen as the child gets older.

While babies can resist soothing and continue crying for hours during this time, Evans says it is healthy and normal, even if the child looks like it's in pain.

"Babies cry," Evans said. "They have no other way to communicate."

Sharon Gilbert of Washington Child Protective Services, works to educate parents on this time period so they can be prepared.

"Crying is a normal thing," Gilbert said. "You can be doing everything right and they will still cry."

Gilbert recommends all expecting parents understand their child is going to go through a crying phase and plan ahead. They ought to consider which family or friends will be there to help when they need a break, she said.

"I have specific concerns for young parents who are trying to do it all on their own," Gilbert said. "They [often] become very frustrated."

Evans, who has a 9-month-old daughter, says when her baby was between 6 and 10 weeks old she cried nearly every night. For Evans, soothing her crying baby in shifts with her husband allowed her to take breaks away from the crying. Evans also says she had a friend she could call who would hold the crying baby while she took a walk around the block by herself.

Evans encourages friends and family members to help any parents they might know who have a fussy baby.

But, she also says it's also important for parents to know that it's OK to walk away from a crying baby as long as it's in a safe place and you don't go far.

"Go to a different room or stand on the porch," Evans recommends. "Step out and call a friend or family member."

Evans said parents who are struggling can always call their doctor for help.

"If you feel like you're hitting your breaking point, before you pick up the child, step out of the room and call the doctor's office," she said.

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