Shaken Baby Syndrome

What is shaken baby syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome is a medical term for the injuries caused by violently shaking an infant. Shaking or hitting the baby’s head can lead to permanent brain damage and even death. Shaken baby syndrome does not result from gently bouncing an infant in play.

Sometimes babies are shaken by babysitters, but most often it is done by an adult living in the baby's home. Caretakers usually do not intend to hurt the baby. Shaking a baby generally happens when an adult is angry and loses control over a baby’s constant crying.

What are the symptoms of shaken baby syndrome?

A baby who has been shaken may:

  • be sleepy
  • be fussy
  • not eat well
  • vomit
  • have seizures
  • stop breathing off and on
  • be unconscious

Even if babies looks normal right after the shaking, they may eventually have problems such as:

  • blindness
  • hearing loss
  • developmental delay (delay in walking and talking)
  • problems with speech and learning
  • seizures
  • trouble paying attention and remembering things
  • mental retardation

How can I prevent shaken baby syndrome?

  • If you find yourself getting annoyed or angry with your baby, put your baby in the crib or another safe place and leave the room. Take a time-out.
  • If you feel that your baby is crying too much and you can't cope with it, get help. Call a friend or relative for support or to take care of the baby for a little while.
  • Call your healthcare provider. There may be a medical reason why your baby is crying.
  • Do not hold your baby during an argument or fight.
  • Do not leave your baby with someone who is angry, drinking or using drugs, or who seems violent.
  • Only use childcare providers who are licensed. Check their references before you leave your child with them. Make unannounced visits at different times of the day.
  • NEVER shake a baby.
  • If you suspect your baby has been shaken, get emergency care right away. Tell healthcare providers that you think your baby has been shaken. It may save your baby's life or keep him from having severe mental and physical problems for the rest of his life.
Written by Lawrence R. Ricci, MD, and Hannah Pressler, MHS, PNP.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-12-13
Last reviewed: 2010-12-13
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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