Shaken Baby Syndrome

Each year in the United States, 20-30% of all victims of shaken baby syndrome will die as a result of their injuries. Shaken baby syndrome is the name given to describe the abusive form of inflicted head trauma in which the parent or infant's caretaker shakes the infant violently causing brain damage. This form of child abuse accounts for serious traumatic brain injury (TBI) in up to 1,500 infants per year.

Caretakers and parents who have become frustrated with a crying baby may shake them violently in an effort to silence them. The shaking does quiet the crying child by damaging his brain. Children living in poverty are the victims of shaken baby syndrome more often than those not living at the poverty level. Male caretakers are estimated to be the perpetrators of shaken baby syndrome between 60-90% of the time, and over 60% of the victims of shaken baby syndrome are male infants.

Shaken baby syndrome typically affects children under one year of age due to their underdeveloped brain structure, but cases have been reported in children up to four years of age. Babies who survive being shaken often develop symptoms that last a lifetime including seizures, blindness, hearing loss, cognitive dysfunction, paralysis and mental retardation.

How Does Shaking Damage the Infant's Brain?

When adults shake their infant, the infant's still-undeveloped brain is moved about violently. Since their little necks do not have muscles developed enough to stabilize their own heads, the brain shakes within the skull causing torn brain tissue and ruptured blood vessels. The shaking, in turn, causes swelling in the brain; the swollen tissue constricts blood flow to the child's brain, preventing its development and contributing to blood clots.

Shaken babies often stop crying as the shaking progresses and the brain damage becomes more severe. The degree of the traumatic brain injury caused by the shaking depends on the severity and repetition of the shaking. Some signs of shaken baby syndrome are lethargy, inability to lift the head and focus the eyes, lack of vocalization, decreased appetite and lack of smiling. Because parents and caretakers know they are the cause of these symptoms, they often will not take the children to the hospital for fear of criminal charges being placed against them.

There are ways to prevent shaken baby syndrome. Parenting classes and stress relief techniques can help minimize the frustration felt by the parent. It is appropriate to play with a baby safely and jiggle your infant on your knee in a soft, playful way; however, shaking a baby in anger will cause brain damage that could last a lifetime.

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Disclaimer: This website provides general information about pregnancy and in no means should be taken as a medical or health advice. Please consult your doctor before acting on any of its information.