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Volunteer Spotlight: Purple Caps Help Battle Shaken-Baby Syndrome

Claire Swanson, of Lebanon, recently made 50 baby hats for a campaign to prevent shaken baby syndrome. Photograph by Kathy Stocker.

Claire Swanson, of Lebanon, recently made 50 baby hats for a campaign to prevent shaken baby syndrome. Photograph by Kathy Stocker.

Lebanon — When new parents head home from local hospitals, they may be carrying with them a knitted purple hat for their newborn. Handmade by volunteers, the “period of PURPLE crying caps” are part of a national campaign to prevent shaken-baby syndrome, the most common form of infant abuse.

New Hampshire organizer Maria Doyle said response to a recent call for hats for the Click for Babies campaign far surpassed their hopes.

The caps are distributed at hospitals in several states and Canada during November and December. They were hoping for 1,000 caps, Doyle said last week. Instead, eager knitters and crocheters donated 5,000.

“Our campaign was so successful this year that we are still distributing caps,” said Doyle, who is the training and evaluation director of New Hampshire Children’s Trust in Concord.

Among the volunteers was Lebanon resident Claire Swanson, a retired teacher who made 50 hats and encouraged family members and friends to take part.

Swanson is a care management assistant at Molly’s Place at the CHaD Family Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. In addition to a playroom for kids, Molly’s Place provides resources for adults, such as computer access and a lending library.

The hats take about an hour to make, and she was able to knit at work while talking with parents, Swanson said. “I used it as a tool to make folks aware of what was going on.”

Sponsored by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, the campaign seeks to raise awareness of the “period of purple crying,” the long bouts of seemingly inexplicable crying many babies have between two weeks and 5 months of age. Shaken-baby syndrome, also known as abusive head trauma, often occurs during this period, when parents or caregivers react in frustration by shaking or otherwise abusing a crying baby. The caps are designed to remind parents that the crying is normal and will end.

Purple is an acronym, Doyle said, and each letter stands for a characteristic of a developmental stage: P is for peak; the crying may increase each week, often peaking at about 2 months. U is for unexpected; the crying seems to occur for no reason. R stands for resists, as the infants may resist soothing. P is for pain; the baby may appear to be is pain although he or she is not. As the crying may last for five or more hours a day, L stands for long-lasting. The final letter is for evening; the crying often takes place in the late afternoon and evening.

“Having that information will hopefully decrease frustration over crying,” Doyle said.

The caps are being distributed at 12 hospitals around the state, including Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital. They will be collected again this year, starting in April. Organizers will also be accepting donations of baby-friendly purple yarn, Doyle said.

For patterns and more information, go to clickforbabies.org/index.php or nhchildrenstrust.org.

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.