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Shaken Baby Syndrome

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma?

Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma (SBS) is the name given to physical child abuse that can occur when a young child is severely or violently shaken.  The shaking may only last a few seconds, but the effects last a lifetime. Young children, especially babies, have very weak neck muscles and do not yet have full control of their head movements. When they are shaken, the head whips back and forth slamming their fragile brain tissue against the hard skull, causing bruising, bleeding and swelling inside the brain. Shaking combined with throwing, dropping or slamming the baby can be deadly.

Know the Facts about SBS:

Sleeping Baby
  • SBS is a leading cause of child abuse deaths in the United States.
  • Babies (newborn to 4 months) are at greatest risk of injury from shaking.
  • Inconsolable crying is a primary trigger for shaking a baby.1

What triggers shaking?

Inconsolable crying is the number one reason given for shaking a baby. The perpetrators normally have little or no knowledge on how to safely care for a crying infant or young child. The caregiver becomes frustrated and loses control and violently shakes the child to get him/her to stop crying. They just want the baby to stop crying!

Why are babies vulnerable to shaking?

  • Babies normally cry for two to three hours a day.
  • Some cry for longer periods for unknown reasons.
  • Babies communicate by crying.

What are the long term effects?

Although there are sometimes no outward physical signs of trauma, there may some such as bruising, bleeding or swelling.

  • Severe brain damage
  • Learning disabilities
  • Blindness
  • Paralysis
  • Hearing loss
  • Speech problems
  • Death

Other symptoms include: change in behavior; irritability; lethargy or loss of consciousness; pale or bluish skin; vomiting; and convulsions.

How Can SBS Be Prevented?

Research shows that shaking most often results from crying or other factors that may trigger the person caring for the baby to become frustrated or angry.

The fact is that crying—including long bouts of inconsolable crying—is normal developmental behavior in infants. The problem is not the crying; however, it’s how caregivers respond to it. Picking up a baby and shaking, throwing, hitting, or hurting him/her is never an appropriate response.

baby cryingEveryone, from caregivers to bystanders, can do something to prevent SBS. Giving parents and caregivers tools to know how they can cope if they find themselves becoming frustrated are important components of any SBS prevention initiative.

You can play a key role in reinforcing prevention through helping people understand the dangers of violently shaking a baby, the risk factors and the triggers for it, and ways to lessen the load on stressed out parents and caregivers.  All of which may help to reduce the number of children impacted by SBS.

What should you do if your baby has been shaken?

If you or someone else shakes your baby, the most important step is to get medical care right away. Immediately take your child to the pediatrician or emergency room. Don’t let embarrassment, guilt or fear get in the way of your child’s health or life. If your baby’s brain is damaged or bleeding inside from severe shaking, it will only get worse without treatment. Getting medical care right away may save your child’s life and prevent serious health problems from developing. Be sure to tell your pediatrician, or other doctor, if you know or suspect that your child was shaken.