I want to stress how important it is to support any baby’s head when lifting and carrying them because it isn’t well known how much damage can be unwittingly inflicted on tiny and helpless infants.
I believe every mother of a newborn is given this advice as soon as she first moves to lift her baby. “Support his/her head”. All mothers realise that for the baby’s sake, they must do this, but the danger is that not everyone in families heeds this advice and it isn’t just uncomfortable for the unsupported baby – It’s very dangerous.
No-one would deliberately risk a baby’s health but many folk don’t know it isn’t just about the baby’s comfort, it’s about possible – and highly likely – brain damage, which can be slight or devastating.
The danger area, or weakness, in a baby is the point where the brain meets the spinal cord. A rocking motion with the head unsupported can cause some damage to the part of the spinal cord that controls breathing.
So a child born completely healthy can be injured in this way without anyone realising. The result is brain damage to some degree and a harder life for the child from thereon.
Obviously colicky babies are at extra risk because they need a lot more lifting and carrying, usually by a parent who is exhausted and exasperated by the hours of crying.
Researchers who examined the brains of children who were thought to have been killed by violent shaking discovered that even mild shaking can cause damage to the nerve fibres that control breathing. The lack of oxygen makes the brain swell and can easily cause some degree of brain damage or even death.
When we speak of brain damaged folk I guess most of us think of brain damage to an extreme degree but it doesn’t always mean a wheelchair and 24 hour care.
Indeed it can be slight enough to just affect a child’s intelligence, reaction speed, co-ordination or indeed anything the brain is wonderfully designed to control, but even this kind of damage is bound to make a big difference to the quality of life the child would then lead.
Rough play with a baby before it can even crawl is extremely dangerous and everyone who is likely to be involved in the care of a new baby needs to be made aware of this. Also they must be advised to take care to always support the newborn’s head when walking with baby in their arms, and the reason explained clearly.
I find it very worrying because on several occasions during my own life I’ve seen people lift a baby without supporting the head and have quickly said “Support its head” and I think of the thousands of babies who had no-one there to help them out with that extremely important advice.
In an effort to keep helpless babies safe we need to have warnings and advice about supporting a baby’s head printed on packs of diapers and baby formula, just as warnings about the dangers to health are printed on packs of cigarettes and tobacco.
Adults make their own choices about risk-taking with their health or are addicted and therefore disregard the warnings, but babies are completely dependent on their carers, so in my opinion it’s very important that all carers, including older siblings, have the dangers of a baby’s head not being supported explained clearly to them.
It is much easier to remember and comply with a rule if we know the reason for that rule.