Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a type of brain injury that occurs when a baby or a toddler is shaken violently. This causes swelling, bruising and bleeding in the brain. The child may be further injured if he or she is thrown down onto a surface, which is known as shaken impact syndrome.
Infants’ heads are very large and heavy in proportion to the rest of their bodies. When a child is shaken, his or her brain bounces back and forth against the sides of the skull. Shaking can cause bleeding in the brain (subdural hemorrhages, or hematomas) or in the retinas (retinal hemorrhages).
Parents or caregivers may shake a baby because it is crying for a long time, and they may think that shaking the baby will make him or her stop crying. Some parents or caregivers may be under stress for various reasons, and may become frustrated and unable to cope with the responsibilities of caring for a child. Other caregivers may simply not know that shaking a baby can be so dangerous.
People who are most likely to shake a baby have a direct connection to the baby (father or mother) or an indirect connection (babysitter, secondary family members), and are both male and female. Shaken baby syndrome can happen among families of any ethnicity, any income range and with any type of family composition.
A child or baby who has been shaken and has had an injury to the brain may have symptoms such as:
Some symptoms show up right away, but others may not appear until later. Some children may have attention and behavior problems later in life from being shaken when they were infants.
Babies and children who are shaken face serious medical problems as they grow older, including:
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.
Diagnosing shaken baby syndrome (SBS) may be difficult for several reasons:
Healthcare providers may use certain tests when a brain injury appears possible, including:
Shaken baby syndrome should be treated immediately. Parents or caregivers need to take the child for emergency medical attention as soon as they are aware that the baby has been shaken. The adults should also tell the healthcare provider that the baby has been shaken. Caregivers who are not telling the truth may say that the child has fallen.
Depending on how severe the symptoms are and the child’s condition, the child may need respiratory (breathing) support or surgery to stop bleeding in the brain.
Parents or caregivers who shake babies usually say that the shaking occurred when the baby was crying inconsolably.
Babies cry from one to three hours per day. Here are some things you can do to avoid becoming angry and shaking the baby:
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 07/01/2019