St. Joseph’s takes aim at shaken baby syndrome


The smallest, most vulnerable patients at St. Joseph’s Health Care, London are the focus of an innovative program aimed at reducing the incidence of shaken baby syndrome in the London region.

All nurses in the NICU and mother/baby unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital have been trained in The Period of PURPLE Crying® program and the education of parents began in November. All parents who give birth at St. Joseph’s or whose infants are transferred to the NICU from the region will learn about the normal patterns of early infant crying, the frustration of inconsolable crying, and strategies for coping. Most important, the program, created by the National Centre on Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) based in B.C., teaches parents that it’s never okay to shake or hurt their baby.

PURPLE is an acronym describing crying patterns in infants. Details on the program are available at

Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), through funding by the Children’s Health Foundation, secured the rights to bring the PURPLE program to London. The program was rolled out at LHSC in April and is now being rolled out at St. Joseph’s, where a unique population of infants makes education of parents particularly critical. The London hospitals are the first in Ontario to adopt the PURPLE program.

“Preterm infants may be at higher risk of physical abuse after hospital discharge due to the added stress faced by parents caring for these infants,” says advance practice nurse Ranjan Nimkar, lead for the program in the NICU. “SBS prevention is very important for us to implement.” In the NICU, physicians, fellows and residents, as well as all nurses, will be trained so that education of parents can occur at the most opportune time.

With about 3,300 infants born at St. Joseph’s each year, about 60 infants transferred annually to the NICU from the region, and the vast area served by the NICU as a level III tertiary facility, the program at St. Joseph’s will reach a large percentage of new parents throughout Southwestern Ontario.

As a first-time mom of premature twins, Heather Prescott of Woodstock, Ontario is expecting some rocky moments when she brings her newborns home from St. Joseph’s Health Care, London. But she’s feeling better equipped to handle them, thanks to the new program.

Prescott was one of the first parents at St. Joseph’s to take part in PURPLE program. Tiny Morgan and Grace were born on August 20th at 30 weeks gestation and have spent most of the last three months in the NICU. When they go home, Morgan will still require a feeding tube. “It was awesome,” says Prescott of the PURPLE program. “As a first time mom, you know babies cry but I didn’t know they can go through such intense crying.”

With the program, parents receive one-on-one education, a booklet and watch a DVD, which includes parents’ personal experiences. “It’s nice to know when they start wailing that other parents have gone through it,” says Prescott. “It’s also nice to know that it’s okay to feel frustrated or upset, to ask for help, and to walk away as long as the babies are safe.”

Education to families will be offered initially in Cantonese, Spanish, English and Punjabi. and eventually in several other languages. Fellows who speak Hindi, Arabic, and French have been trained at St. Joseph’s.

According to the LHSC Trauma Registry 1999-2006, intentional injury is the leading cause of severe trauma for infants at Children’s Hospital, accounting for 43 per cent of their injuries. Many of these are SBS.