What is shaken baby syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome refers to a type of brain injury that happens when a baby or a toddler is shaken violently. Shaking can cause bleeding in the brain (subdural hemorrhages) or bleeding in the retinas (retinal hemorrhages). Additional injury happens when the shaken baby is thrown down onto a surface, resulting in shaken impact syndrome.

When a child is shaken, the brain bounces back and forth against the sides of the skull. Infants’ heads are very large and heavy in proportion to the rest of their bodies. This causes swelling, bruising, and bleeding in the brain.

The potential consequences of shaking babies or toddlers are extreme. They include:

  • Brain damage
  • Blindness
  • Hearing loss
  • Speech and learning disorders, including mental retardation
  • Seizures
  • Neck and spinal cord damage, which can lead to motor dysfunction ranging in severity from clumsiness to paralysis
  • Death

Why do people shake babies?

Parents or caregivers may think that shaking a baby will make the baby stop crying. Parents or caregivers may be unable to cope with the reality of caring for a child and take their frustration out on the child. Some may not know that the results of shaking can be as devastating as they really are. However, shaking babies or children is never okay.

Who shakes babies?

Statistics indicate that two-thirds to three-fourths of the people found guilty of shaking babies are male. While the age range is great, generally men who shake babies are in their twenties.

It is not true that only males shake babies. Mothers and other female caregivers have also been found to have shaken babies. Shaken baby syndrome can happen among families of any ethnicity, any income range, and with any type of family composition.


What are the symptoms of shaken baby syndrome?

A child or baby who has been shaken and has pressure on the brain may have symptoms such as these:

  • Extreme irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Poor appetite or feeding problems
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Convulsions (seizures)
  • Lethargy (extreme tiredness, lack of movement, inability to stay awake)
  • Pale- or blue-colored skin
  • Bruising, such as grab marks, on the arms or chest
  • A forehead that appears larger than usual, or a soft spot that seems to be bulging
  • Inability to lift his or her head
  • Tremors (the shakes)
  • Inability to focus or follow movement with his or her eyes
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma

Who is most at risk for shaken baby syndrome?

SBS happens most often in infants up to one year, with infants aged two to four months being most at risk. SBS does not usually happen after age two, but children as old as five or six can be damaged in this way if the shaking is extremely violent.

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