Is Shaken Baby Syndrome?
Shaken baby syndrome is a serious brain injury caused by
forcefully and violently shaking a baby. Other names for this condition include
abusive head trauma, shaken impact syndrome, and whiplash shake syndrome.
Shaken baby syndrome is a form of child abuse that causes severe brain damage.
It can result from as little as five seconds of shaking.
Babies have soft brains and weak neck muscles. They also have
delicate blood vessels. Shaking a baby or young child can cause their brain to
repeatedly hit the inside of the skull. This impact can trigger bruising in the
brain, bleeding in the brain, and brain swelling. Other injuries may include broken
bones as well as damage to the baby’s eyes, spine, and neck.
Shaken baby syndrome is more common in children under age 2, but it
can affect children up to age 5.
Most cases of shaken baby syndrome occur among infants that are 6 to 8
weeks old, which is when babies tend to cry the most.
Playful interaction with an infant, such as bouncing the baby on the
lap or tossing the baby up in the air, won’t cause the injuries associated with
shaken baby syndrome. Instead, these injuries often happen when someone shakes
the baby out of frustration or anger.
You should never shake a baby under any circumstances. Shaking a baby
is a serious and deliberate form of abuse. Call 911 right away if you believe
that your baby or another baby is a victim of shaken baby syndrome. This is a
life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical treatment.
Are the Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome?
Symptoms of shaken baby syndrome may include:
- difficulty staying awake
- body tremors
- trouble breathing
- poor eating
- discolored skin
Call 911 or take your baby to the nearest emergency room
immediately if they are experiencing symptoms of shaken baby syndrome. This
type of injury is life threatening and can result in permanent brain damage.
Causes Shaken Baby Syndrome?
Shaken baby syndrome occurs when someone violently shakes an
infant or toddler. People may shake an infant out of frustration or anger, often
because the child won't stop crying. Although shaking does eventually make the
baby stop crying, it’s usually because the shaking has damaged their brain.
Babies have weak neck muscles and often have difficulty supporting
their heads. When an infant is forcefully shaken, their head moves
uncontrollably. The violent movement repeatedly throws the baby’s brain against
the inside of the skull, causing bruising, swelling, and bleeding.
Is Shaken Baby Syndrome Diagnosed?
To make a diagnosis, the doctor will look for the three
conditions that often indicate shaken baby syndrome. These are:
or brain swelling
- subdural hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain
- retinal hemorrhage, or bleeding in a part of the
eye called the retina
The doctor will order a variety of tests to check for signs of
brain damage and to help confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include:
- MRI scan, which uses powerful magnets and radio
waves to produce detailed images of the brain
- CT scan, which creates
clear, cross-sectional images of the brain
- skeletal X-ray,
which reveals spine, rib, and skull fractures
exam, which checks for eye injuries and bleeding in the eyes
Before confirming shaken baby syndrome, the doctor will order a
blood test to rule out other potential causes. Some symptoms of shaken baby
syndrome are similar to those of other conditions. These include bleeding
disorders and certain genetic disorders, such as osteogenesis
imperfecta. The blood test will determine whether or not another condition
is causing your child’s symptoms.
Is Shaken Baby Syndrome Treated?
Call 911 immediately if you suspect your child has shaken baby
syndrome. Some babies will stop breathing after being shaken. If this occurs,
CPR can keep your baby breathing while you wait for medical personnel to
Red Cross recommends the following steps to perform CPR:
- Carefully put the baby on their back. If
you suspect a spinal injury, it’s best if two people gently move the baby so
the head and neck don’t twist.
- Set up your position. If your infant
is under age 1, put two fingers on the middle of the breastbone. If your child
is over age 1, place one hand on the middle of the breastbone. Put your other
hand on the baby’s forehead to keep the head tilted back. For a suspected
spinal injury, pull the jaw forward instead of tilting the head, and don’t let
the mouth close.
- Perform chest compressions. Press
down on the breastbone and push about halfway into the chest. Give 30 chest
compressions without pausing while counting out loud. The compressions should
be firm and fast.
- Give rescue breaths. Check for
breathing after the compressions. If there’s no sign of breathing, tightly
cover the baby’s mouth and nose with your mouth. Make sure the airway is open
and give two breaths. Each breath should last about one second to make the
- Continue CPR. Continue the cycle of
30 compressions and two rescue breaths until help arrives. Be sure to keep
checking for breathing.
In some cases, the baby may vomit after being shaken. To prevent
choking, gently roll the baby onto their side. Make sure to roll their entire
body at the same time. If there’s a spinal cord injury, this method of rolling
reduces the risk of further damage to the spine. It’s important that you don’t pick
up the baby or give the baby food or water.
There’s no medication to treat shaken baby syndrome. In severe
cases, surgery may be required to treat bleeding in the brain. This may involve
placement of a shunt, or thin tube, to relieve pressure or to drain excess
blood and fluid. Eye surgery may also be needed to remove any blood before it
permanently affects vision.
for Children with Shaken Baby Syndrome
Irreversible brain damage from shaken baby syndrome can occur in
a matter of seconds. Many babies experience complications, including:
- permanent vision loss (partial or total)
- hearing loss
- seizure disorders
- development delays
- intellectual disabilities
- cerebral palsy,
a disorder that affects muscle coordination and speech
Can Shaken Baby Syndrome Be Prevented?
Shaken baby syndrome is preventable. You can avoid harming your
baby by not shaking them under any circumstances. It’s easy to become
frustrated when you can’t get your baby to stop crying. However, crying is a
normal behavior in infants, and shaking is never the right response.
It’s important to find ways to relieve your stress when your
child cries for extended periods of time. Calling a family member or a friend
for support can help when you feel yourself losing control. There are also some
hospital-based programs that can teach you how to respond when infants cry and
how to manage the stress of parenting. These programs can also help you
identify and prevent the injuries associated with shaken baby syndrome. Make
sure your family members and caregivers are also aware of the dangers of shaken
If you suspect that a child is the victim of child abuse, do not
ignore the problem. Call the local police or the Childhelp National Child Abuse