Shaking a baby can be lethal, new campaign stresses

A campaign launched Wednesday aims to drive home a message to parents and baby sitters: Shaking a baby can kill or cause permanent injuries to the child.

Since January 2006, Stanislaus County authorities have investigated six shaken baby incidents and one case of severe head trauma to a young child, said Jan Viss, assistant director of Child and Family Services for the county. The victims ranged from infants to a 4-year-old girl; three of the children died.

In San Joaquin County, 25-year-old Michael Zamarripa awaits trial on charges of shaking a 2-month-old boy in September, causing severe brain injuries. The baby remained in serious condition Wednesday at Children's Hospital Central California near Fresno.

The Stanislaus County Child Abuse Prevention Council unveiled the campaign Wednesday at a gathering at the Tenth Street Place plaza. The council is joining forces with hospital birthing centers to educate new parents about the dangers of shaking a baby and is also using advertising to spread the message.

The county's full-service hospitals -- Doctors Medical Center and Memorial Medical Center of Modesto, Emanuel Medical Center of Turlock and Oak Valley Hospital of Oakdale -- will start using shaken baby curriculum in birthing centers next week. The hospitals have about 8,000 births a year.

Before parents are discharged with their newborns, staff members will show them a video and use a training doll to demonstrate the devastating injuries caused by shaking a baby. The parents will be asked to sign a pledge to never shake their child.

The council also is putting bilingual advertising on buses and distributing posters showing a silhouette of an adult holding a baby. The poster reads: "If you shake me you could kill me. Never shake a baby."

Two more years' funds possible

The education campaign is based on a prevention program in the Sacramento area. The $84,000 in funding for the first year is coming from the Children and Families Commission of Stanislaus County. The commission, which administers tobacco tax funds, will consider funding the effort for two additional years.

"This is the type of injury that can be avoided," said John Sims, executive director of the Children and Families Commission. "It's a matter of parental control. A parent has to know when to set the child down and walk away."

According to experts, shaken baby incidents most often occur when a parent or caregiver becomes frustrated with a crying baby.

The violent shaking slams the child's brain against its skull, resulting in brain hemorrhaging and swelling. Close to one-third of the victims die, and 60 percent to 70 percent of the survivors have long-term disabilities.

For well more than a year, the campaign organizers have talked with the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Sacramento about its efforts.

Sacramento County had six shaken baby homicides in 2005. Since a prevention program began there in early 2006, the county has had one shaken baby homicide, said pediatrician Angela Rosas, who is director of the BEAR Care Center in Sacramento.

"I am hoping when you start the program here, you will see the same results," Rosas said Wednesday.

Rosas, who has examined more than 3,000 abused children, conducted training sessions with employees from the Stanislaus County hospitals in September. Those staff members then took the training to health care workers in their hospitals.

Mothers seen as receptive

Jen Millar, director of labor, delivery and postpartum care at Doctors Medical Center, said the education should be effective, because new mothers are eager to know how to properly care for their newborns. Birthing centers routinely train parents in feeding, baby care and how to use infant car seats.

Babies cry for a variety of reasons, and parents may never know why. Campaign literature suggests that parents put a list of tips on their refrigerator: Is the baby hungry or wet? Too hot or cold? Is the baby sick or does the child just need to be held?

Parents who start losing their temper with a baby are advised to put the child in a safe place, listen to soft music, watch TV or exercise, and check on the baby every few minutes. They might also try calling a relative, friend or their pediatrician.

Another idea for the campaign is to include a shaken baby curriculum in training for baby sitters. In addition to the hospital education, the American Red Cross chapter has implemented the shaken baby training in its infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation classes.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or 578-2321.