Ken and Lisa were hesitant to jiggle baby Emily. Like many other parents, they feared it would make her spit up, get overstimulated, or even harm her. But when they tried it, they were amazed: “We worried it would be too strong for her, but it worked like a charm!”
Almost any mother with more than three kids has learned that fussy babies settle fastest when they’re energetically bounced. And jiggling is certainly much safer for infants than driving them around town with a weary parent behind the wheel. However, for many first-time moms and dads, this shivering motion may seem counterintuitive and wrong. When I teach new parents my technique, they often ask in a concerned voice, “I know it’s been done for millions of years, but are you sure jiggling can’t accidentally cause Shaken Baby Syndrome?”
Fortunately, the answer is … No! No! No!
Shaken Baby Syndrome: The Big Difference Between a Jiggle and a Shake
The act of shaking leading to Shaken Baby Syndrome is so violent that individuals observing it would recognize it as dangerous and likely to kill the child.
American Academy of Pediatrics, Report on
Shaken Baby Syndrome, July 2001
Shaken Baby Syndrome is a horrific type of child abuse that requires a force even greater than falling off a bed or out of your arms. It occurs when a baby’s head is whipped back and forth, an extreme movement that has also been referred to as Baby Whiplash Syndrome. Why whiplash? Because it involves the forceful snapping of his head, side to side, like cracking a whip. That aggressive shaking can tear open tiny veins under the skull, causing bleeding and brain damage.
Jiggling, on the other hand, differs from the violent whipping motion that causes Shaken Baby Syndrome in two important and fundamental ways:
1. With jiggling, your motions are fast but tiny. Your baby’s head does not dramatically flail about. Instead, it moves—at most—one to two inches from side to side.
2. With jiggling, your baby’s head always stays in line with his body. There is no whipping action with the body going in one direction and the head moving abruptly in the opposite one.
It is my firm belief that jiggling can actually help prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome. Because it calms babies so quickly and successfully, it can keep parents from reaching the point of desperation that might drive them to a violent response.
Nevertheless, even with all the very best tips and advice, parenting can sometimes make anyone feel frustrated, edgy, and inadequate. That’s why it’s crucial that you never shake—or even jiggle—your baby when you’re angry!
Please—if you’re at the end of your patience, put your baby down (even if he is crying) and give yourself a break. Don’t hesitate to call for help from your spouse, your family, a friend, or a crisis hotline.
Kristi Discovers How to Calm Kyle’s Colic with the “Jell-O Head” Jiggle
Kristi and John’s son, Kyle, was a big, apple-cheeked baby with a wave of copper hair. He would be fine one night but scream for three hours the next! Kristi called for help after her five-week-old baby had been shrieking at the top of his lungs for hours. I made a house call.
Kristi describes what happened that Sunday night:
“As luck would have it, Kyle finally fell asleep moments before Dr. Karp arrived. I didn’t really want Dr. Karp to wake him up or even touch him. Sure enough, when he placed his stethoscope on Kyle’s chest, he started shrieking.
“Dr. Karp apologized for waking him, but reassured us that Kyle seemed healthy and his biggest problem was that he was having trouble calming. Then he deftly swaddled and jiggled our frantic baby, and we were stunned that within a minute Dr. Karp had Kyle resting angelically on his lap as if his last explosion had never happened.
“John and I practiced the technique and did okay, but we wimped out and asked Dr. Karp to put Kyle back to sleep before he left. Our boy did great that night, but the next day he was unbelievably fussy. And we just didn’t feel comfortable trying the tricks we had learned the night before.
“Finally, my mom came to the rescue. She wrapped Kyle tightly, placed him on her lap (laying him on his side with his head cradled in her hands), shhhhed loudly, and did what I like to call the ‘Jell-O head.’ She wiggled her knees back and forth, making his head quiver between her loosely cupped hands, like Jell-O on a plate. At first, Kyle resisted her efforts. He strained against the blanket and cried even harder. However, after three or four minutes he quieted, and after fifteen minutes he was fast asleep!
“My mother repeated this miracle many times throughout her stay with us and I began to view her as the expert on Dr. Karp’s method. I found that I had a hard time doing the Jell-O-head part, but I kept working at it and eventually began to feel more confident.
“At first it took almost twenty minutes for this trick to settle Kyle into sleep. But soon I got it down to ten minutes, and by the time he was seven weeks old I could take him from shriek to smile in two minutes flat.
“The more I practiced, the more I learned that the crucial steps for Kyle were tight swaddling and the Jell-O head. Gentle rhythms helped him when he was already quiet, but to calm screaming he needed almost an earthquake. Then, after a short time, he would heave a huge sigh and tension seemed to leave his body. I felt like a great mom! By four months of age, Kyle was adorable, happy, and doing fine without swaddling, the swing—or the Jell-O-head jiggle.”
Kristi, John, Kyle, and Cassandra