LEWISTON — When parents leave Central Maine Medical Center’s Special Delivery Family Birthing Center with their newborns, they also leave with information and tools to help them should their baby experience extended periods of crying.

Central Maine Medical Center, like many hospitals and family organizations nationwide, is hoping that by educating parents about crying, they will help prevent shaken baby syndrome. Crying is the primary reason caregivers shake a baby; shaking a baby can lead to death or serious head trauma, including blindness and neurological impairment.

“Crying is normal in newborn babies,” said registered nurse Betsy McGrail, CMMC’s maternal child health program coordinator. “Healthy babies can cry a lot in their first five months of life. Babies can cry from 30 minutes to three hours, with some crying lasting for up to five hours.” McGrail said parents should always seek medical care for their baby if they believe the child’s health is in question, but that a healthy baby may sometimes cry for unknown reasons, and efforts to soothe him may be futile.

Nurses at CMMC now talk to new parents and show them a 10-minute DVD produced by The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome called “The Period of PURPLE Crying.”

PURPLE is an acronym for the phenomenon of extended crying: P stands for peak of crying; U, that it is unexpected; R, resists soothing; P, pain-like face; L, long-lasting; E, evening, when it is most likely to occur. McGrail said most hospitals and family health organizations are using this tool to educate parents and caregivers.

In the DVD, new parents talk frankly about the frustration they experienced when their newborn began to constantly cry. They were not prepared for it, and had to learn how to deal with it. They learned that as long as the baby is in a safe place, it was okay to walk away for a few minutes to compose themselves. They remembered that this period would pass; extensive crying, which may peak at around two months, usually stops after five months.

Also featured in the DVD are two women whose babies died after being shaken. In one case, it was the baby’s father; in another, it was a daycare provider.

McGrail said all of CMMC’s maternity patients are given copies of the DVD for themselves and also to give to potential caregivers.

For more information about the the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome or “The Period of PURPLE Crying,” visit www.dontshake.org.

A Maine woman also founded a shaking prevention organization, called “Don’t Shake Jake,” after her baby died in 1998 after being shaken by a caregiver. In 2000, the Maine legislature enacted “Jake’s Law,” which increased mandatory sentencing guidelines in the event of a child’s death from shaking or other forms of abuse. For more information, go to www.dontshakejake.org.

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