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Willard Baby's Death Revives Discussion on Shaken Baby Syndrome

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A woman in the southwest Missouri town of Willard has been charged with second degree murder and child abuse resulting in death after allegedly shaking an infant she was babysitting in January.

The case has turned the public’s attention, once again, to Shaken Baby Syndrome—that’s the medical term given to a type of traumatic brain injury that occurs when a baby is violently shaken.KSMU’s Jennifer Moore reports on the stresses that come along with having a baby, and how experts say Shaken Baby Syndrome can best be prevented.

Most cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome occur when an adult cannot get the baby to stop crying. The parent or caregiver’s stress level reaches a breaking point, and out of anger and frustration, the adult shakes the infant back and forth. Numerous factors can contribute to losing control: sleep deprivation, poor coping skills, even anxiety over outside factors, like money.

Babies have large heads for their body size. In addition, their neck muscles are very weak. So even jostling a baby too roughly can result in injury.

Dr. John Burson, a pediatrician at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, reminds parents that infants are fragile, and that a person should never shake a baby.

Burson adds that babies can feel a parent’s anxiety. Whenever a person begins to feel anxious or stressed, they should hand the baby off to a grandparent or a partner, and take a break.

But some parents don’t always have the option of handing the baby off to someone else.

Tracy Novreske is, for the time being, raising her three-month-old daughter, Anastasia, largely on her own. Her husband is deployed with the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq.

Like other new parents, she was surprised at how tough the early days with an infant can be: she says she’s sleep deprived, she’s got a never-ending list of tasks to do, and she worries constantly about her little one.

Novreske says if she has a bad night, she’ll call her mother or sister for help. She also makes sure she gets regular breaks.

Pediatritian John Burson says if a parent or caregiver is alone, it’s better to put the baby in the crib and walk away for a few minutes—even if the baby’s crying--rather than letting the stress get out of control. That’s if, of course, all of the baby’s immediate needs have been met.

An estimated 1,400 cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome occur each year in the United States. Only one out of four babies actually dies as a result, but those who survive usually require lifelong medical attention.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.