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Shaken Baby Syndrome

​​Shaken baby syndrome is a head trauma injury caused by forceful and vigorous shaking of an infant or young child. This injury can cause swelling or bleeding of the brain, internal bleeding, mental and other significant issues that cause harm, or even death, to the child. Infants are at higher risk for shaken baby syndrome because of their large head size and poor muscle control. Shaken baby syndrome is a form of child abuse.​

  • Shaken Baby Syndrome

    Shaken Baby Syndrome is probably one of the most, if not the most difficult things we deal with as pediatricians. You know, you have these very vulnerable young infants who for one reason or another put themselves into harm's way, and injury is then inflicted onto them by one of their caregivers.

    Why are babies at risk?

    The babies are susceptible to injury for several reasons most of it has to do with a very large size of their heads and their poor head control. That large size, poor muscle control so there is going to be a lot of forces a lot of shaking.

    Any shaking is going to lead to a tremendous amount of force within the head of the kids. But it really takes a significant shaking and force to create that injury. It is not going to happen with the playful bouncing on the knee, or you know a lot of kids when they get some head control you will see them being tossed up in the air and caught in kind of a playful manner. Those types of things are not going to create shaken baby syndrome.

    These are truly inflicted, typically out of anger, pretty violent events.

    What are some symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome?

    There can be a variety of symptoms. The main symptom that children will present with shaken baby syndrome is seizures. So a young child, typically somewhere 3 to 5, 3 to 6 months of age will present to a medical facility having had seizures.

    The other issue would be apnea, or just the stoppage of breathing, or just an incredibly fussy, irritable, unexplained irritability.

    What can Shaken Baby Syndrome cause?

    Anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of cases end in death, so this is a cause of death with infants, in this age group. The ones that are fortunate enough to survive end up with long term neurological problems: often blindness sometimes, some hearing deficits, learning disabilities, permanent seizure disorder.

    A lot of them really fail to achieve their normal neurological milestones that you would expect your average toddler and kid to achieve.

    What is your advice to parents regarding Shaken Baby Syndrome?

    I do not bring it up directly with many families, but if I do have a baby who is extremely colicy and a extremely fussy baby. I do make sure I have a one-on-one conversation with those parents to make sure these are the kids that put themselves at risk. And none of us think we will be the perpetrator, but we all have a breaking point, we all have those thresholds. So, you have got to know your own limitations.

    You have got to not be afraid to go get your own help. Accept and admit, when you are at your end and you need that help before you do something foolish.​​​

Causes of Shaken Baby Syndrome:

  • Weak muscles to support babies' heavy heads
  • Caregiver severely shakes a baby due to frustration

It takes a significant amount of shaking and force to cause shaken baby syndrome. It is not going to happen with the playful bouncing on the knee or tossing a child up into the air lightly. Shaken baby syndrome is often caused by fairly violent acts against the infant, typically out of anger.

Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome:

  • Seizures
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Extreme irritability
  • Breathing problems
  • Poor eating
  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Vomiting
  • Paralysis
  • Death

Lasting Complications of Shaken Baby Syndrome:

Anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of cases end in death, and children that are fortunate enough to survive end up with long-term neurological problems. Shaken baby syndrome has serious consequences including:

  • Partial or total blindness
  • Hearing loss
  • Developmental delays or learning problems
  • Seizures
  • Cerebral palsy

Shaken baby syndrome is preventable. Consider having family members or a hired caregiver help you with your child to take away some of the stress. There is help for parents who may be at risk of harming their child. Your child’s doctor may have a referral to a counselor or other mental health provider. Always remember to treat your child gently.

Newborn Pediatrics