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Shaken Baby Syndrome

By Charles Sprague, M.D.

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.

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.