Shaken baby syndrome: Information for parents and caregivers

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), is the severe injury that occurs when a larger person violently or forcefully shakes a baby or a toddler. It is also called abusive head trauma, shaken impact syndrome, or whiplash shake syndrome.

Shaking a baby is very dangerous, and it’s a form of child abuse. It can cause brain damage or even death.

30% of all babies who are shaken die, while 80% suffer irreversible brain damage for the rest of their lives. Shaken baby syndrome is common in children under the age of 2, but can also affect a child of up to 5 years of age.

Children under the age of 1 are more susceptible to injury because their brains are soft, and their neck muscles are not developed enough to withstand being violently shaken. Babies also have delicate blood vessels.

When a baby is shaken, the weak neck muscles allow the head to move around uncontrollably. The brain bounces back and forth inside the skull, causing severe bruising, bleeding and swelling. The brain cells are destroyed, preventing the brain from getting enough oxygen.

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There can also be bleeding in the retina, leading to blindness. The spinal cord can be damaged in the process, and bones can be fractured. All these can happen very quickly. As little as 5 seconds is enough to cause severe and permanent damage to an innocent little child.

Why would anyone shake a baby?

The main reason why babies are shaken is frustration. Parents and caregivers can get frustrated because their child won’t stop crying. Other reasons are poverty, stress, domestic violence, depression, alcohol/substance abuse, etc.

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Studies of shaken-baby cases have shown that baby boys are more likely to be shaken than baby girls. Also, men are three times more likely than women to be accused of shaking babies.

Gentle play with a baby such as bouncing your baby on your laps or swinging in a baby swing, will not cause shaken baby syndrome. Shaken baby syndrome is a deliberate and violent act.

Parents who are overwhelmed should seek help and ways of managing stress. This video by Phoenix Children’s Hospital teaches parents and carers what to do when they get overwhelmed by their child’s non-stop crying.

How to know if your baby has been shaken

A baby might not show any outward sign of injury, but common symptoms of a shaken baby include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Poor eating
  • Vomiting
  • Body tremors
  • Discoloured skin
  • Seizures,
  • Paralysis,
  • Coma,
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Extreme irritability.
  • Head or forehead appears to be larger than usual, or soft-spot on head appears to be bulging

If you think your baby has been shaken, call your doctor straight away or rush to the nearest emergency room.

Maternity Nest

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