Inconsolable crying is normal: B.C. program reduces shaken baby syndrome by 35 per cent

An inconsolable crying baby can be very frustrating, but new research shows that helping parents understand why infants cry so much has reduced cases of shaken baby syndrome in the province by more than a third.

A new study by B.C. Children's Hospital and the University of British Columbia looked at the effectiveness of a public education initiative called Period of PURPLE Crying to teach parents that crying is a normal development phase — even if there's no obvious reason why.

"New parents often don't have a good idea of what is coming up in the first two or three or five months of life," said Dr. Ron Barr, developmental pediatrician and a professor emeritus of UBC's Faculty of Medicine.

"No matter what the parents do — they can be perfect parents and excellent at soothing their babies — but there is a certain amount of crying that they do that is inconsolable."

Shaken babies

Being unable to soothe a screaming infant can "drive parents nuts" and is one of the triggers that leads to shaking the child, causing what is known as shaken baby syndrome, which can result in death or serious injuries.

Barr helped develop the public education program that launched in B.C. in 2009, compiling educational material and reaching out to new parents in maternity wards and during postpartum care.

Since then, it's been associated with a 35 per cent reduction in the number of children under two admitted to B.C. hospitals with shaking-related injuries — down from about 10 or 11 cases a year in B.C. to six or seven.

"It's very hard to move these indices, but it's great to have that progress in the province right now," Barr told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

Teaching the signs

Purple crying is an acronym that describes the characteristics of normal developmental crying in babies:

  • Crying peaks between two and three to five months of age.
  • Crying is unexpected and resists soothing.
  • Babies look like they are in pain even when they are not.
  • Crying may be long-lasting and occur more in the evening.

"Some [babies] cry more and some cry less but they all have this pattern of crying in the early months and so if parents are not ready for it, it can be extremely frustrating," Barr said.

With files from The Early Edition.

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