Preparing parents for months of baby's tears

Little Rose Bonnicksen wasn't hungry.

She wasn’t too hot. She wasn’t too cold. And she didn’t have a dirty diaper.

But she was crying. And her mother, 21-year-old Jamie Bonnicksen, didn’t know what else to do for her 1-day-old daughter.

Then she remembered the lessons of a 10-minute video she’d watched in her Tacoma General Hospital room.

Babies cry, the video noted, and sometimes there’s nothing a parent can do to soothe them. It’s OK to be frustrated and it’s OK to leave the baby in a safe place, then walk away for a few minutes.

“It’s easy to get down on yourself,” said Bonnicksen, a first-time mother. “(The video) was just reassuring to hear.”

Rose eventually stopped crying and both mother and daughter survived their first hard night together.

The hospital is showing the video, “The Period of PURPLE Crying,” to new parents like the Bonnicksens before they leave the hospital with their bundles of joy.

The campaign, which began April 1, is aimed at educating parents about an infant’s tendency to cry in hopes of preventing caregivers from shaking babies and causing serious injuries, or even death.

“We know crying makes people frustrated,” said Amy Scanlon, a social worker at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Pierce County. “If we can educate on crying, maybe we can get families educated.”

Tacoma General is one of the latest hospitals in Washington to launch the campaign to inform parents on the difficult time period in an infants life that generally starts around two weeks and lasts until they are about 3 to 5 months old. “PURPLE” is an acronym that helps describe several symptoms of the period such as crying frequently and not being able to calm down.

“This meaningful education could make a big impact on a new, tiny life,” said Tricia Sharp, clinical manager for the hospital’s Women & Newborn Center.

Valley Medical Center, Swedish Medical Center and the University of Washington Medical Center in King County also show the video.

St. Joseph Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital give new parents one of two videos that include segments on inconsolable crying, caring for a newborn and postpartum care for mothers, spokesman Gale Robinette said.

Birthing centers in the Franciscan Health System soon will add the video to materials sent home with parents.

“It gives them a resource,” said Lynn Rhett, birthing manager at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. “We tend to think we are the only ones and moms tend to think they are not doing something right.”

The campaign was launched after six children, ages 4 months to 3 years, died as a result of abuse in Pierce County in 2008.

The number concerned the team of social workers, prosecutors, police investigators and medical staff members at the Children’s Advocacy Center.

The number of deaths peaked in 2008. One child died in 2009 and one last year. So far this year, one boy’s death has been ruled a homicide. Between 2008 and 2010, 75 children were seriously hurt as a result of abuse in Pierce County.

The center looked at the cases and found the abuse – from shaking to kicking to throwing – occurs across socio-economic levels and at the hands of younger and older parents and caregivers.

“It can be anyone that is frustrated,” Scanlon said. “There just doesn’t seem to be a profile for this.”

The center picked a campaign that focused on a baby’s crying because it’s a key trigger in abuse of infants.

The program, presented by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome and based on more than 25 years of research, tells parents that babies can cry – and cry a lot – in their first few months.

“This is a normal phase infants go through,” Scanlon said.

Social workers from the center and Tacoma police detectives started by talking to high school students in Pierce County about abusive head trauma and the frustrations of dealing with a crying baby.

“No baby has ever died from crying,” detective Brad Graham said in an interview. “They die by our responses to their crying.”

At Tacoma General, all parents see the 10-minute video, regardless of whether they are having their first child or fourth. Nurses are available to answer questions.

Parents receive a copy of the video, a booklet and a knitted purple hat for their newborn. They’re encouraged to review the information after they get home and to show the video to anyone who will be watching their baby.

“The idea is you gain these coping skills early on,” Scanlon said. “You can resort back to these coping skills.”

Bonnicksen will be staying at home to care for her daughter. But if someone else will be watching little Rose, Bonnicksen said, she will pull out the video so they understand that sometimes she will just cry.

“They just need to let it out,” Bonnicksen said. “It’s like their way of talking.”

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268