New campaign raises awareness about Shaken Baby Syndrome in the Roanoke Valley

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ROANOKE (WSLS10)-- April is Child Abuse Prevention month and if you live in the Roanoke Valley, you may notice something different about Valley Metro Buses. The Southwest Virginia Alliance for Safe Babies has launched a new bus campaign, warning about the dangers of shaken baby syndrome.

One of the biggest issues that many parents face with young babies is crying. By the time they reach six to eight months old, the average baby is crying two to four hours a day. Doctors say that can be draining on new parents or babysitters who are working to keep up, especially when the baby cries for hours at a time, day after day. Experts say the most important thing a caregiver can do when they start to feel stressed is to take a step back.

"First check the baby's needs," says Tiffany Bradbury, the public information officer for Roanoke Fire-EMS. "Are they wet? Are they hungry? Is something pinching them? Are they having some kind of tummy pain or something like that? Is there a need that needs to be met? Sometimes babies just cry. That's why we went with this slogan, 'Babies cry, take a break, don't shake.'"

Doctors say shaking or slamming a baby down can lead to serious head trauma, ranging from a mild concussion to severe brain damage and even death. Dr. Donald Kees, the Vice Chair of Pediatrics at Carilion, tells me that by the time many babies are brought in for help, serious damage has already been done.

"These types of injuries don't just come from normal handling of a baby," says Dr. Kees. "A baby is not going to roll over in a crib and cause this kind of injury to itself. Bouncing the child on a knee is not going to cause this kind of injury. This is a violent act, and I want to be very clear about that. This is violent shaking and many times, throwing a child up against a hard surface."

Dr. Kees says by the time children are brought in for treatment, this type of abuse has often happened more than once and repeated serious damage has already been done.

The campaign is being funded by the Roanoke City Fire-EMS Department through a grant from Walmart. The department paid for several of the new ads and Valley Metro matched their contribution, putting up more of the signs. Bradbury says the department wants to spread awareness and cut down on the number of child abuse cases first responders are called to.

"We're the ones that get called first, us and police," says Bradbury. "A lot of times people will say, 'They fell,' or 'Something happened and they tripped.' But there are very obvious signs of abusive head trauma. Our folks are the first to deal with that and it takes a toll on our people as well."

Doctors say it's especially important to teach young parents about the harmful impacts of shaking a baby. One of the biggest dangers to an infant-- a man that's not directly related to the child, like their mother's new boyfriend.

"That relationship is there because the man wants to be with the mother," says Dr. Kees. "It's not because he desires to be a caregiver for the young child, he's really detached or not that invested. Unfortunately, we see babies that are left in the care of a boyfriend, the boyfriend ends up being a perpetrator."

The campaign was created to let people know that it is okay to be frustrated, it's all about how you respond. Doctors suggest putting the baby in a safe place, like a crib, and walking away for a few minutes to calm down. They also suggest calling a neighbor or relative to come over and take care of the baby for a little while, so the caregiver can get away and calm down. You can find a full list of tips at safebabies.org