Editorials

Never, ever shake a baby; we can help new parents

Don't shake your babies.

That seems like common sense, doesn't it?

But as any parent can tell you, babies can be incredibly frustrating.

Newborns come with all kinds of issues, and sometimes they just won't stop crying. Parents often are sleep-deprived and stressed out. Nerves can be frayed and patience is fleeting.

That can lead some folks to do the unthinkable: take their frustration out on the babies -- babies who are just trying to communicate the only way they know how.

And, alarmingly, people harm their babies more in the Mid-Columbia than in most other places.

Sandy Owen of the Benton-Franklin Health District noticed several incidents locally of babies with head injuries from being shaken. She dug deeper and found that Benton and Franklin counties have a rate eight times higher than the national average for abusive head trauma of infants.

That's completely unacceptable. One shaken baby is unacceptable.

Infants do their best to communicate. And their method for communication is crying. They can't help it -- that's how they're programmed.

If you're old enough to have a child, then you're old enough to take the responsibility of caretaker for that child. You are the baby's protector from harm and in the process you should inflict no harm yourself.

Yes, everyone will make mistakes in parenting, but abuse is much more than a mistake -- it's a crime.

It's inconceivable that someone would hurt a baby. We know it happens, but it still shocks us every time.

And it's that disbelief and obvious need for a solution that spurred Owen to action.

She and other public health district nurses have formed a local task force with a goal to prevent such abuse from ever happening again. Other participants include the three area hospitals, the Children's Administration, early learning and child care organizations, teen parenting programs, the Sexual Assault Response Center, the Mid-Columbia Lib-raries and law enforcement agencies.

The group will work to implement a program called Period of PURPLE Crying to help parents learn how to deal with a baby that will just not stop crying. DVDs and information about coping strategies will be given to all new parents. Tactics include carrying and comforting the baby and walking and talking with the baby.

And sometimes you just have to walk away and take some deep breaths. As long as the baby is in a safe place, take a little time to collect yourself and calm down.

Letting the baby cry is a much better alternative than physical force.

And ask for help, especially from someone who has had a baby in the house before. Anyone who has raised children -- regardless of how "good" of a baby they had -- has surely experienced moments of frustration when the crying seems like it will never end, when all the parent wants is somepeace and quiet and some sleep.

Some reassurance and an extra set of comforting arms for a baby can be a relief for parent and child.

By providing new parents with tools and resources, Owen and her task force hope to keep them safe. "I still firmly believe every parent intends to be the best parent they can be," she said.

Unfortunately, some end up causing irreparable harm or death to their children. Anything that can be done to save one baby is worth it.

Having such a high rate of abuse is not something our community can tolerate for a second longer.

Owen and the task force deserve all the support this community can muster.

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