Shaken Baby Syndrome: The Facts

You love your beautiful baby and would never dream of hurting him or her. Still, the reality is that everyone needs to know about shaken baby syndrome, the symptoms and how to prevent it.

What Is It?

Shaken baby syndrome is a form of child abuse that can cause serious brain injury after even a few seconds of forcefully shaking a baby. The shaking prevents a baby’s brain cells from getting enough oxygen. This can result in severe brain damage or death.

What Are the Causes?

Babies are fragile. They have very weak neck muscles and have difficulty supporting their heads. If someone forcibly shakes a baby, the brain moves back and forth in the skull, causing swelling, bruising or bleeding. A caregiver or parent generally shakes a baby when they are frustrated because the baby won’t stop crying.

Be sure that you and everyone who cares for your child knows never to shake a baby. In times of stress or frustration, the safest place for a baby who won’t stop crying may well be in the crib. If you’ve changed her diaper, fed her, burped her, tried anti-gas tricks like the gentle leg bicycling, you’ve given her a teething ring, a pacifier, that special toy, tried the rocking chair and you’re out of ideas, it might be time for a time out – for the caregiver.

Gently place the baby in the crib and step away for a moment. Try dimming the lights and playing soft music – for both you and the baby. Close the door if you need to. If you need to take five minutes in the shower just to get away, do it. You might also consider taking the time to call a friend to help out for a while. Once you’ve collected yourself, go back in.

Risk Factors:

  • Male caregivers
  • Single or young parents
  • Addiction (alcohol, drugs)
  • Stress
  • Domestic violence
  • Unrealistic expectations of babies
  • Depression
  • History of abuse as a child

Also, be sure to do thorough background checks on caregiving facilities and individual babysitters. An overcrowded day care center or caregivers that seem stressed are red flags.

Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome:

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Difficulty with breathing
  • Pale, bluish skin
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Paralysis
  • Coma

If you suspect your baby has shaken baby syndrome, call your pediatrician or urgent care facility immediately. The doctors may run a CT scan, MRI, eye exams, x-rays and blood tests. They may be able to do breathing support and/or surgery to stop bleeding in the brain.

If you and/or your partner are having trouble controlling your emotions and stress as you care for your child, seek help. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a counselor or mental health provider. In the meantime, remember – it only takes a few seconds of shaking to cause irreversible brain damage. Treat your baby gently. If you need a break, call a friend or family member to help.

If friends, family or other caregivers will be caring for your child, be sure they know the dangers of shaken baby syndrome and above all, handle your baby with care. They’re fragile little people who depend on you for their safety.