CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nurses dressed tiny newborn babies in CAMC Women and Children's Hospital nursery on Thursday in hand-knitted caps in varying shades of purple. Their sweet appearance carried a serious message.
The caps will go home with all babies born in the hospital along with an informative DVD as a reminder to parents and caregivers not to shake their babies. The caps are purple because the letters of the word PURPLE represent specific types of crying and remind parents that the crying is normal and it will pass.
Ultimately, the goal is to encourage parents who are frustrated with their crying babies to put the baby down in a safe place and walk away until they feel their frustration is under control. Frustrated parents who shake their babies might seriously injure or sometimes kill their infants.
It's a phenomenon that pediatricians Joan Phillips and Sharon Istfan see in their practices too often. That's why they promoted The Period of Purple Crying awareness program.
"In West Virginia, the incidence of shaken babies has nearly doubled in five years. Our incidence is 50 per 100,000. It was 30 per 100,000 five years ago," said Phillips. "It's gut-wrenching. It's so preventable. These were healthy babies."
Women and Children's and three other West Virginia hospitals adopted the pilot program this year. The program will be rolled out to other hospitals throughout the state.
"It's an evidence-based program. In New York, they decreased the incidence of shaken babies by 46 percent," said Phillips.
Red flags that indicate an infant has been shaken go up when Phillips and Istfan see an unresponsive, limp baby, perhaps with respiratory problems and/or fractures. Severe cases that involve brain injury, internal damage and bleeding in the brain can cause serious lifelong mental and physical disabilities, or death.
Ashleigh Taylor, whose son was born Tuesday, knows firsthand how devastating the results can be. She has a friend who left her 3-month old daughter in the care of her husband, who became frustrated with the baby's cries and shook her.
"She was in the hospital for one month before she passed away. It's horrible," said Taylor, who appreciates the staff's efforts to educate parents about the dangers of shaking a baby. "It's something no one wants to talk about. It's not pleasant, but then it happens to people who you'd never think would do that."
Taylor's baby lay snugly in his bassinet, his tiny head warmed by a hand-knitted purple cap while his mom talked. He and the babies in the nursery Thursday were the first to receive the caps, which were knitted by groups and individuals throughout the community and beyond.
Local knitters, as well as others from Indiana, Illinois and North Carolina, clicked their knitting needles to create caps for the babies at Women and Children's. Knitters ranged from 6-year-olds to Girl Scouts to teenagers to senior citizens.
A 16-year-old boy who lives in the Davis Child Shelter knitted a dozen caps for the babies after he heard about the program through a volunteer at the shelter.
Word of the request spread and the beautifully knitted caps in shades from palest lavender to deep eggplant began arriving at the hospital. Some were simple caps, while others sported pompoms or decorative ducks. One was shaped like a baseball cap and another like an eggplant.
When the caps were counted, the total numbered 1,162, well in excess of what organizers expected. They continue to accept the caps and will send them home with the babies as the supply lasts.