Shaken baby syndrome is a form of child abuse that causes serious brain injury resulting from violent shaking. Brain cells are destroyed, and the brain may be deprived of oxygen. A child with shaken baby syndrome may suffer permanent brain damage or even death.
While many syndromes do not have a known medical cause, shaken baby syndrome is a form of child abuse. No child develops or catches shaken baby syndrome. It is caused when someone throws, drops, or violently shakes a child, usually under a year old. The average age of victims is 3-5 months old, though children as old as 5 years old can suffer from this type of injury.
Some parents may worry that falling during play or bouncing may cause shaken baby syndrome, but this is not true. Naturally, you will want your baby to play safely to avoid injuries, but the only way for a child to get shaken baby syndrome is when someone violently shakes the child, almost always in frustration. It is damaging because a baby’s neck muscles are still weak and may not be able to hold up the head very well.
Symptoms of shaken baby syndrome include:
- Trouble staying awake
- Difficulty breathing
- Poor appetite
- Pale, bluish skin
- Bleeding in the brain
- Spinal cord damage
- Bone fractures
Depending on the severity of the injury, these signs may show up right away, or they may show up over time. In mild cases, the child may develop learning and behavior problems.
If a child survives shaken baby syndrome, there may still be lifelong brain damage including:
- Developmental problems
- Hearing loss
- Cerebral palsy
- Mental retardation
Shaken baby syndrome is preventable. According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, the leading trigger for shaking is when a baby cries. In this scenario, the parent or caregiver becomes frustrated that they cannot console the baby and then resolves that frustration by shaking the child. Even five seconds of shaking can cause permanent injury.
It is important for all new parents and caregivers to understand that sometimes babies cry for no apparent reason. If you feel overly frustrated, it is vitally important that you seek help. Help may be a friend or family member who can soothe the baby while you take a break, or it may be calling a crisis line. Help can also come from a doctor who can offer resources, perhaps by recommending techniques in stress management or referring you to a support group.
If there is no immediate help available and you feel overwhelmed with frustration, remember that allowing a baby to cry is OK once your child’s basic needs have been met. It’s perfectly acceptable to temporarily remove yourself from the area after making sure your baby is in a safe location to give yourself a few minutes to calm down. A momentary lapse of judgement due to frustration is not worth the lifetime of heartache that could ensue.
- A child with shaken baby syndrome may suffer permanent brain damage or even death.
- The number one trigger for shaken baby syndrome is when a baby cries.
- Even five seconds of shaking can cause permanent injury.