Make the crying stop!

2011-10-14 00:00

MANY young mothers are bewildered when they give birth to their first child. They imagine motherhood is instinctive, they imagine that babies are like dolls, and they have no idea that the small creature they are now holding is totally dependent on them.

Giving birth to a child is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, but for many young women it is a time of great anxiety. They are ill-equipped to cope with the demands of a newborn. Often they are barely out of childhood themselves.

Ladysmith resident Joy Coetzee is trying to make a difference to the lives of young mothers by educating them. Her journey began when her grown-up children left home, and she began suffering from the empty-nest syndrome. She loved to knit and crochet all kinds of things, but she had no one to make things for. She decided to contact a local social worker to ask if there was a place looking after babies that she could make clothes for.

The social worker suggested that she help make up baby packs for the young mothers at the local state hospital, who often left the hospital without any clothes for their newborn babies. Coetzee was horrified at the thought of these poor young women leaving the hospital with absolutely nothing but their tiny babies.

She said: “As a devoted Christian, I felt called to make a difference. I spread the word to my church and my friends on the Internet. I launched an appeal via my blog on the Internet, and soon I had a group of friends who joined me in knitting for the young mothers at the local state hospital.”

Coetzee decided to name the project the Ruth Mailbag Project. Ruth was a strong character in the Bible, and many of the donated items arrive in the mail from countries overseas. Women have knitted baby items from England and Norway.

Coetzee said: “Our latest project is to raise awareness about the shaken-baby syndrome (SBS), which has only become highlighted in recent years. The women in our group are knitting purple hats to raise awareness of the syndrome.

The letters in the word “purple” stand to educate young mothers about the reasons why babies cry (see box). Many mothers get frantic trying to soothe their babies, and they feel helpless. They don’t understand why the crying is so incessant.

Frustration or anger can lead to a parent shaking a baby, which can cause serious brain damage and life-long health consequences. SBS is the term that is used to describe a form of child abuse caused by vigorously shaking an infant to get it to stop crying or whining.

It can result in severe and permanent brain injury, spinal-cord ­injuries, bleeding in the eyes (retinal haemorrhages), and even death. There are no accurate statistics, but experts believe 1 000 to 1 500 infants suffer per year.

According to the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, of 2 000 children who die from child abuse, 10% to 12% suffer from SBS.

Babies are most at risk because their skulls are large and they have weak neck muscles. The immature brain rattles around in the skull cavity when shaken. This causes internal brain and retinal haemorrhages , and spinal cord or neck injuries. Often infants will also have evidence of other non-accidental injuries, including unexplained bruises, rib fractures and extremity fractures.

The baby’s main caregiver is often the perpetrator of abuse. Coetzee drops off the baby packs once a week, including a purple hat and information on SBS. She talks to the new mothers and gives them words of encouragement. “Some of these mothers are so young, it breaks my heart.”

Coetzee herself wishes she had known about the crying patterns of newborns when she was a young mother. “Young women are prone to worrying about their babies. Many women feel unable to cope and have no support, and may decide to abandon their babies.”

If you would like to support the Ruth Mailbag Project, you can e-mail Joy Coetzee at: joy.coetzee@ or visit her blog at •




P — Peak of crying. Your baby may cry more with each week. The most at two months.

U — Unexpected crying can come and go, and you often don’t know why.

R — Resist soothing your baby. He or she may not stop crying, no matter what you try.

P — Pain-like face. A crying baby may look like they are in pain, even when they are not.

L — Long-lasting crying can last as long as five hours a day, or more.

E — Evening. Your baby may cry more in the late afternoon and evening.

It is very important that you are able to give the baby to someone when you are feeling frustrated or angry. Even leaving the baby alone for five or 10 minutes while you walk away to calm down is better than lashing out at the baby.

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