Shaken Baby Syndrome Rates Up During Recession


Babies cry.  They keep you up all night, sometimes for years.  The less money you have, the worse those sleepless days feel.  You can’t afford a trip to the spa, or to pay a babysitter while you enjoy a relaxing night out.  Being poor can make you feel trapped, and the stress of the recession has caused more people to snap and shake their children, according to research presented this weekend at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

The study is co-authored by Rachel Berger, a child abuse specialist at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and Philip Scribano of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH.  They traced 511 cases of shaken baby syndrome from 2004-2009 at hospitals in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Seattle and Columbus and found that two-thirds involved children less than 12 months old.  Additionally, two-thirds of the infants were admitted to intensive care and 16% died.  “Nearly 90% of the children were covered by Medicaid,” according to USA Today.  So, is child abuse related to unemployment rates?

US News & World Report admits that though the authors “did not uncover any direct correlation between monthly unemployment rates in each hospital’s local county and local trauma caseload figures,” Berger and Scribano “predicted that an analysis of alternative recession indicators — such as social service cuts and psychological stresses propelled by tough times — might ultimately get at the precise underpinnings of the apparent association.”  In other words, in a community of already unemployed Medicaid patients, rising unemployment rates don’t seem to matter.  But a lack of social services for those who need them most has proven detrimental to the health and safety of vulnerable children.

EmaxHealth suggests that poverty is not the only contributing factor in abusive head trauma cases.  “Other risk factors include unrealistic expectations of babies, domestic violence (current or history), and alcohol or substance abuse.”  I think back to my own moments of desperation, sleep-deprived and alone with my daughter, rocking and crying (both of us) to try to get her to sleep and I realize how important having a realistic picture of parenthood really is.  The celebrity media portrays parenthood as if it’s a breeze – and maybe it is if you have millions of dollars and a childcare staff at your disposal.  But regular people can’t show up on the red carpet 8 days after giving birth looking as if they were never pregnant.

When my daughter was born in 2005, at the height of the celebrity baby craze, I thought I, too, could act as if having a baby hadn’t changed my life at all.  I got back onstage 12 days after giving birth, but unlike Amanda Peet, I was wearing elastic-waist pants and a diaper-sized pad.  Going back to work so quickly eventually caught up with me, and I was soon exhausted from trying to be all things to all people.  I never shook my child, but I remember distinctly a few occasions where I held her extra close while rocking her so I wouldn’t be tempted to let go.  It’s enormously important that hospitals, medical professionals, family and friends get real about the difficulties new parents face.  Honest expectations up front could go a long way in keeping children safe from abuse in stressful times.

Photo by Eric Castro (via Flickr).