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Child Abuse Awareness

dreamstime l 38188481 Houston Crime StoppersApril is child abuse awareness and prevention month. Sadly, recent data published by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services revealed that in FY2018 there were 211 child fatalities from abuse or neglect in Texas, a 35% increase from 5 years ago. Over half of these 211 child fatalities, were children under the age of 2. Locally, there were 45 child fatalities from abuse or neglect in Harris County in FY2018, of which 20 of these children were under the age of 2.

Children under the age of 2 are at the greatest risk of being victims of child maltreatment. Parental stress, sleep deprivation, and depression coupled with infant crying is a risk factor for abuse. As a result, organizations across the county and state have invested in efforts to protect these vulnerable children. For example, Texas Children’s Hospital provides education to new parents and caregivers on infant crying and soothing through the Period of Purple Crying Program. The purpose of this educational intervention is to normalize infant crying so parents and caregivers are aware, as well as to prepare them with tools and coping strategies for soothing their baby and handling frustrations around crying. Texas Children’s collaborates with other community hospitals to deliver the Period of Purple Crying Program to new parents delivering babies and to parents with children in the neonatal intensive care unit.

If Hollywood was your only source of information about babies, you may think that most of their time is spent in peaceful slumber or cooing happily. The reality is babies cry – some cry a lot – and they cry for many reasons.

As with most things, there is a range of frequency and intensity. We know infant crying typically peaks around 8 weeks of life and usually starts to taper by 16 weeks of life. We also know babies tend to be fussy and cry more in the early evening. As parents are settling into their new roles, perhaps returning to work and caring for other children, this time can be challenging. And, if coupled with sleep deprivation, parental stress, anxiety or depression, it can be even more difficult.

Newborns communicate their needs through crying. They could be hungry, sleepy, not feeling well or need a diaper change. As a parent, you might think you’ll know exactly what to do to soothe your baby and stop the crying. But there will be times you won’t know the cause of the crying and despite your best efforts, may not be able to remedy the crying. You can comfort your crying baby by taking them outside, singing, rocking them or rubbing his/her back and while that may not stop the crying, it lets the baby know you are with them. However, we know parents and caregivers can become so frustrated with infant crying they lose control and, without thinking, shake or hurt the baby. If you find yourself really frustrated with the crying, it is OK to put the baby in a safe place, a crib without toys, pillows or blankets, and take a short break to breathe and calm yourself or ask for someone to come help with the baby. It is never OK to shake or hurt a baby. Remember babies cry and sometimes they are not consolable, but that is not a reflection of you as a parent. Also know you are the person who knows your baby best and if something is concerning or seems out of the ordinary, you can call your health care provider.

Posted by Kim Lopez, DrPH and Nancy Correa, MPH on 8 Apr 2019