Shaken Baby Syndrome

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is a form of abusive head trauma that occurs when a frustrated caregiver "shakes" and/or "slams" a child, usually to stop him/her from crying. Thousands of children each year are victims of this form of abusive head trauma. It is considered a serious crime and a severe form of child abuse.

SBS typically occurs when a young child is shaken back and forth and/or slammed to either a soft or hard surface. During the shaking incident, veins over the brain tear and bleed causing a subdural hematoma (bleeding over the brain). In addition to this bleeding, brain tissue is sheared or torn during the shaking. This results in injury to the brain that causes cerebral edema (brain swelling). As the damaged brain begins to swell, the resulting pressure pushes down on the brainstem, which controls vital functions such as heart rate and breathing.

Symptoms of SBS

The symptoms of SBS can range from mild forms of irritability, poor feeding, vomiting, and lethargy to the more serious symptoms of breathing difficulties, seizures, coma, and death. Another symptom of SBS is retinal hemorrhages (bleeding in the back of the eye). Retinal hemorrhage occurs when blood vessels in the retina (lining the back of the eye) are torn and begin to bleed. Children that have any of these symptoms should receive immediate medical attention.

Permanent Injuries

Twenty-five percent to 35% of SBS victims die. The remaining survivors suffer from one or more conditions including:

  • Behavioral disorders
  • Blindness
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Deafness
  • Developmental delays
  • Learning disabilities
  • Paralysis
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Permanent vegetative state
  • Seizures/epilepsy

Learning & Behavioral Difficulties

Although some babies seem to make a "good" recovery, research and practice show that most children do not escape without permanent injury. Many children begin to experience learning and behavioral difficulties as the demands of school increase. As children grow and more demands are placed on their brain, signs of brain injury from SBS become more evident.

Coping with a Crying Baby

  • Check to see that the baby's basic needs (food, diapering, appropriate clothing, burping, etc.) are met.
  • Offer the baby a pacifier.
  • Take the baby for a ride in a stroller or car.
  • Call a friend, relative, or neighbor,
  • If a baby's crying becomes intolerable, put the baby in a safe place such as a crib, swing, or car seat and walk away. Take a break, cool down, and remember that it is the baby's job to cry. It is your job to cope with the crying.

Remember: Crying does not hurt your baby but shaking your baby can kill it.