Shaken Baby Syndrome

babyShaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is the name given to physical abuse that happens when an infant or small child is violently shaken.  It is also known as Abusive Head Trauma.

Why It Happens

The number one reason given is inconsolable crying. A caregiver gets frustrated, loses control, and violently shakes a baby in an effort to stop the crying. They just want the crying to stop.  That's why it's important for everyone to understand that crying is normal. It's how babies communicate, and it's not unusual for them to cry for two to three hours a day. Some cry for even longer periods — and for no obvious reasons.

While most perpetrators are male, there is no typical profile. Anyone who becomes frustrated is capable of shaking a child. Those most at risk are caregivers with little or no knowledge of how to safely care for crying infants or young children.

The Potential Effects

The shaking might only last a few seconds but the effects can be deadly. Babies are especially vulnerable because their neck muscles aren’t yet strong enough to support their heavy heads. When shaken, a baby's head whips back and forth, causing the brain to bounce off the skull. This can have serious and long-lasting impacts.

Although there are sometimes no outward physical signs of trauma, there may be some bruising, bleeding or swelling.  Other symptoms can include:

  • A change in behavior, convulsions, decreased appetite, difficulty breathing;
  • Head or forehead that seems larger than usual, a soft spot on head that appears to be bulging;
  • Extreme irritability or fussiness, increased crying, vomiting, lethargy, loss of consciousness;
  • Inability of eyes to focus, pale or bluish skin, rigid posture, and seizures.

Potential long-term effects include:

  • Death, severe brain damage;
  • Blindness, paralysis, seizures;
  • Learning and physical disabilities, behavior disorders;
  • Hearing loss and speech problems.

What If Your Baby Has Been Shaken

If you or someone else shakes your baby, get medical care immediately!  Take your child to the pediatrician or emergency room immediately. This could save your child's life and prevent serious health problems from developing.

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.  Be sure to tell the doctor if you know or suspect that your child was shaken.

Learn More

Click here for tips to prevent shaken baby syndrome.