shaken baby syndrome

Shaken Baby Syndrome – Know the Facts to Prevent Tragedy

If you want to learn about shaken baby syndrome, its symptoms, causes and things you need to do to prevent it, this article is perfect for you.

Johnnie P. lectures frequently across the country on traumatic brain injuries, some of which are the result of violently shaking a baby. Shaken baby syndrome is a key part of Johnnie’s presentations, during which he does a three- to five-second demonstration of what severely shaking a baby really looks like.

“I always start crying,” says Johnnie, a clinical neuropsychologist and clinical director in a rehabilitation facility for people with a traumatic brain injury in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and father of two.

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a lay term used to define medical problems resulting from violently shaking back and forth a very young child, usually age 1 and under. “The results [of SBS] are dramatic and often irreversible,” including death, Johnnie says.

Take a look at our another article : Why Does The Newborn Baby Cry?

What Is SBS?

The phrase “shaken baby syndrome” only has been used for about 35 years, and this form of abuse didn’t start receiving much attention until the early 1990s. One reason for the delay is it can be difficult in a court of law to place blame on a perpetrator solely for shaking a baby, according to Kevin D., a pediatrician. Another is the fact that many of the studies on SBS are based on mechanical models, not real babies, Kevin points out.

Experts like Kevin and Johnnie agree that terms like “abusive head trauma” or “abusive head injury” better convey both the horror of the baby’s extreme maltreatment and the likely fact that violent shaking was part of the abuse. Furthermore, the more commonly named shaken baby syndrome is considered grossly underreported. Some child-abuse resources report 1,000 new cases a year in the United States; others report up to 50,000 new cases of SBS, according to Johnnie.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)  citing the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, reported between 1,200 and 1,600 children every year are victims of SBS. But HHS also gives this disclaimer: “These data are generally considered underestimates.”

“It’s such a huge problem,” says Kevin. “It’s only getting worse.”

On the Rise

Part of the reason abusive head trauma numbers seem to be going up is physicians now are better trained to identify these injuries. Therefore, the incidences among young children are more widely reported than in the recent past, Kevin says.

For example, four years ago he accepted a fellowship at a children’s hospital to become a trained child-abuse expert. At the time, his was the only such position open in this country. Today, there are up to 14 specialized programs to train professionals in spotting child abuse. However, whereas Kevin and myriad pediatricians are board certified, there remains no certification for a child-abuse expert.

Most babies who sustain injuries from being violently shaken are between 3 months and 8 months of age, Kevin says. But kids up to 4 years old also have been diagnosed with injuries related to SBS.

Infants and very young children are particularly vulnerable to brain trauma because they’ve yet to develop adequate neck and trunk strength. And they are top-heavy; their heads are out of proportion with the rest of their little bodies. Of all children violently shaken, one-third will sustain no injury, one-third will suffer damage and one-third will die, Johnnie says.

“Inflicted head trauma is the leading non-accidental cause of death in children under the age of 2,” says Alicia W., training and education program director for a child abuse prevention center. “Most head injuries in babies under 1 are abusive in nature.”

And it takes only five seconds to horribly injure – if not kill – a baby.

Abusive head trauma can lead to cerebral edema, or swelling within the brain; skull fractures; cerebral palsy; seizures; blood pooling in and along the surface of the brain, causing life-threatening pressure within the skull; hypoxia, or lack of oxygen to the brain; and vision problems, including retinal tearing or scarring, and even partial or total blindness.

Citing data from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Johnnie says vision loss is reported in up to 60 percent of SBS cases. “These are all things that happen in a traumatic brain injury, and that’s essentially what this is – a traumatic brain injury,” he says of SBS.

Some children who survive such brain trauma turn into adults with very limited functionality. They cannot dress or feed themselves, participate in recreational activities or lead a normal social life, says Johnnie, who works with adults, many of whom, as children, sustained the kinds of brain injuries SBS can lead to. “Life can be very empty,” he says.

Perpetrators, Preparedness and Prevention

Nearly a quarter of perpetrators are mothers’ boyfriends, and 22 percent are other caregivers, according to the Child Abuse Prevention Center. So parents who place their young children in daycare or with a nanny must go through the “due process” of research to ensure the facility or people they choose are the most capable caregivers, Kevin says.

Many – roughly 45 percent – of abusers are babies’ biological fathers, and nearly 10 percent of babies’ abusers are their own mothers, says the Child Abuse Prevention Center. Teen mothers are at increased risk for abusing their babies.

It’s important to note that jostling – either to calm a baby or carry out day-to-day activities with him – does not lead to SBS. But violently shaking a baby may quiet a baby for good. “If you let yourself go even just one time, you can disable your infant beyond repair,” says Johnnie. “You shake that kid one time, and your whole world thereafter is going to change.”

So, “It’s so important to be prepared in advance,” says Johnnie.

What You Can Do

Seemingly inconsolable crying is most often cited for the reason parents and caregivers lose their cool with a baby. Babies cry on average two to three hours a day. But ask any new parent, and she’ll likely say her baby cries way more than that; at times, the crying may seem incessant. Check this article to learn why babies cry : The Crying Game – Soothing Your Newborn

Here are tips – for before Baby arrives and once he’s here – to help you deal at the darkest moments:


  • Take parenting classes, before and after your baby arrives, especially if you know you have a quick-flaring temper, Johnnie says. Your local hospital may offer some courses or serve as a referral for places that do.
  • Determine your support network. Consider what trusted friends, relatives and neighbors you could go to when exhausted and no longer capable of coping with a crying infant.
  • “De-stress on a day-to-day basis,” says Kevin. “Do something for yourself.” If all else fails – and it’s the middle of the night and you’ve got no one to call – simply give yourself a timeout, advises Kevin. Place your baby in a safe place, such as his crib, walk out of the room and return only when your cool is under control.
  • If you suspect your baby has a medical problem, call the on-call nurse or pediatrician, or take the baby in for a checkup. Doing so may put you at ease; you’ll most likely learn that while quite fussy, your baby otherwise is quite healthy.

“Remember, the crying will pass,” says Alicia. “Never shake or hit a baby.”

Our articles are prepared to give advice. Always consult your doctor first for any problems and exact information.

The names of the people mentioned in the article have been changed for security reasons and to protect privacy.