What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome is a serious brain injury that occurs when a baby is violently shaken or slammed against a hard object. The shaking must be of such force that an independent observer would recognize the act as dangerous. Shaken baby syndrome most often occurs when a child receives numerous rapid shakes; head impact is not necessary, but does frequently occur.

Most of the time, Shaken Baby Syndrome occurs when adults, frustrated and angry with children, shake them violently. If you are a parent or caregiver of a baby, it is important to know the dangers of shaking. You also need to tell everyone who cares for your baby that it is NEVER okay to shake the baby.

Why is shaking a baby dangerous?

  • A baby’s neck is too weak to support their heavy head. Consequently, when shaken, their head flops back and forth, causing serious brain injury.
  • A baby’s brain and the blood vessels connecting the skull to the brain are fragile and immature.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Facts

  • Shaking often occurs when a frustrated caregiver loses control with an inconsolable, crying baby.
  • Almost 80% of the perpetrators of Shaken Baby Syndrome are male. Fathers are responsible for half of SBS incidents. With boyfriends and other male caregivers added, males account for over two-thirds of reported cases.
  • 1 out of 4 babies that are shaken will die. However, the other three babies will need ongoing medical attention for the rest of their short lifespans.
  • As many as 4,000 incidents of SBS are reported each year across the country.
  • Nearly half (12 out of 26) of the child abuse deaths in West Virginia, 1999-2004, were due to traumatic brain injury, or shaken baby syndrome. Source http://www.childdeathreview.org/Reports/wvcfrtfinalreport.pdf
  • More than 60% of the victims of SBS are male. There are 2 theories to explain this: our society has higher expectations of male babies to be more “masculine” and not cry, even as an infant, and they have a higher pitched cry which is possibly more annoying to the human ear than the female cry.
  • Most victims of SBS are under the age of 5 years old, but the most frequently reported age of victim is about 2 months old.
  • Premature babies, special needs, or difficult to soothe babies are at a higher risk of being shaken because of the extra care they require and their tendency to cry more frequently

Why Keeping Your Cool When Baby Cries is Important:

Crying is recognized as a key trigger for SBS. It’s important to remember that crying is how your baby talks to you, and sometimes healthy babies will cry for no reason and may be inconsolable for extended periods of time. Allowing babies to cry is okay if all their needs have been met.

The key is not the crying, but how you respond to the crying. You can prevent SBS by having a plan when your baby cries and by keeping your cool.

If you feel as if you might lose control when caring for your baby:

    • Take a deep breath and count to ten.
    • Put your baby in her crib or another safe place, leave the room, and let her cry alone.
    • Step away, right away, and take a break.
    • Listen to music, shoot some hoops, or do something else you enjoy for a few minutes.
    • Call a friend or relative for emotional support.
    • Give your pediatrician a call. Perhaps there’s a medical reason why your baby is crying.