Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome

Although crying is normal, it can have significant consequences. In extreme cases, these consequences can affect a baby's health, as researcher Dr. Ronald Bar and his colleagues at McGill University found.

Shaken baby syndrome is the neurological damage done when an infant is picked up and shaken hard back and forth. It is so serious and harmful, it is considered child abuse. Babies have weak neck muscles and fragile, underdeveloped brains. In shaken baby syndrome, 2 things happen:

  1. Parts of the brain of differing size and weight move back and forth at different rates. As they move in this way, pieces of the brain tear, causing brain damage and sometimes death.
  2. Blood vessels in the brain and the eyes are broken, damaging the brain and potentially causing blindness.

Shaken baby syndrome is not merely jostling a baby on one’s knee. The American Academy of Pediatrics describes the shaking as hard enough so “that if anyone was observing they would know that this is inappropriate.” While this type of child abuse has been in the literature for over 35 years, it wasn't until 1996 that it received a distinct classification as a specific syndrome.

Shaken baby syndrome:

  • May result from a single episode of shaking or from repeated occurrences, with crying as a common trigger.
  • Is especially dangerous because the perpetrator receives little negative feedback. When a baby is shaken, there are no bruises or visible marks. In fact, for a moment the stunned baby does stop crying, which may reinforce the abuse.
  • Usually not caused by a primary caregiver. The mother, often the primary caregiver, is fourth on the list of those most likely to cross this line and abuse an infant by shaking. First on the list is a male in the household; second, a non-family male; and third, a temporary-care provider alone in the house.

All caregivers should be educated about the extreme danger of shaking an infant.

Disclaimer: This page is not intended to provide medical advice about your child. Always seek the advice of a physician, qualified healthcare provider or child-development specialist with any questions you have about your child's health, medical condition or development. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you read here.

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