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Study shows that parents' stress during the economic downturn can lead them to inadvertently injure their children.

At the recent Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, a team of researchers led by child-abuse expert Dr Rachel Berger at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh reported a significant increase in cases of shaken-baby syndrome, in which youngsters are shaken violently by an adult, since the start of the current recession.

The researchers analyzed a data on 512 cases of head trauma in four hospitals in Pittsburgh, Pa; Cincinnati, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; and Seattle. It was found that the number of cases had increased to 9.3 per month as of December 1, 2007 as compared to 6 per month prior to that date.

Dr Berger cautions that her study highlights an association between the recession and incidence of shaken babies, but states that it is not a cause-and-effect relationship.

The findings are a stark reminder that in any stressful circumstance - family tragedy, natural disaster or financial downturn -may push parents to the limits of their coping abilities.

Most cases of shaken-baby syndrome and head injuries to young children occur when frustrated parents shake their children in an effort to quiet their crying or stop tantrums. The force of the motion causes the child's brain to shift violently in the skull, crushing blood vessels and damaging still developing tissue.

Even a few seconds of violent shaking can have serious long-term consequences for a child's development. Shaking has been linked to learning disabilities, visual and hearing problems, seizures, behavior disorders and even death. In Dr Berger's study, 63% of the children, ages nine months to six years, were hurt severely enough to require hospitalization, and 16% died.

Parents must be mindful that stress, whether personal or societal, can strain their ability to cope, especially with their families.

Dr James Crawford-Jakubiak, medical director of the Center for Child Protection at Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland in his statement said We as adults need to recognize how stress affects us, and make sure that the stresses in our lives don't get dumped onto our children.