New project to evaluate a programme to prevent abusive head injuries in babies
2 August 2021
The impact of an intervention to help parents cope when their baby is crying to help prevent ‘shaken baby’ syndrome and other abusive head injuries is being evaluated by a team including ARC West researchers. The £300k NIHR grant funded project will assess the effect of the ICON programme, which has been used in some parts of the UK to prevent abusive head trauma in babies.
Abusive head trauma is the most common severe injury in babies, caused when the baby is hit or shaken. This form of abuse affects around 35 in 100,000 babies and is almost completely preventable. It can lead to lifelong learning, visual and hearing disabilities, and in about 20 per cent of cases the baby dies.
It is most common around the age when babies cry the most, a stressful time for the adults who care for them. Whilst it is not always possible to reduce how much a baby cries, it is possible to help parents and carers cope.
Research suggests that these brain injuries could be prevented with clear education and support messages for families about normal crying, especially if given on several occasions. Using this evidence, a programme called ‘ICON’ was developed which has been growing in use.
ICON is made up of four simple messages, given to families by healthcare professionals on five occasions in the baby’s early life:
Dr Mark Lyttle, Consultant in Paediatric Emergency Medicine at the Bristol Children’s Hospital and principal investigator for the project, said:
“The first few months of a baby’s life are often the most challenging for parents. It can be very hard if your baby cries a lot, so helping parents cope is key.
“As these types of injuries can have devastating, lifelong impacts on children, it’s vital to understand interventions that might prevent them from happening in the first place. We hope that our research will shed light on how effective ICON is and how best to use it.”
Julie Mytton, Professor of Child Health at the University of the West of England and ARC West, said:
“We want to find out if abusive head trauma happens less often in areas offering the ICON programme, using routinely collected health data. We also want to understand what factors influence its impact. This will help us make recommendations to policy makers and healthcare managers on whether ICON helps families and, if it does, explain the best way to implement it.”