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Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) describes babies and toddlers who suffer an injury or death from a severe or violent shaking. A baby’s crying can be more than a tired parent or caregiver can cope with. The uninformed and frustrated adult may shake a baby to get the crying to stop. These young children, especially babies, have very weak neck muscles and do not yet have full support for their heavy heads. Babies that are shaken have their brain whipped back and forth slamming the fragile brain tissue against the hard skull. Bruising, bleeding and swelling inside the brain can occur. The shaking is sometimes combined with throwing the baby against the crib mattress or pillow, applying more force to the brain and causing more damage. Half of the children who are victims of SBS die from their injuries. The degree of the injuries depends on the age of the child and how severe the child was shaken.
Shaken Baby Syndrome can cause serious injuries such as:
These are symptoms of SBS:
The warning signs of injury of SBS:
Many incidents of Shaken Baby Syndrome are not reported out of fear. Serious complications, and even death, can be avoided if immediate and early medical attention is sought.
One shaken baby in four dies. Some studies estimate that 15% of children’s deaths are due to battering or shaking, and an additional 15% are possible cases of shaking. Of the 37 children that died in Florida in 1995-96, 13 died from a combination of Shaken Baby Syndrome and head trauma. The thousands that survive death, serious injury usually occurs. The age of SBS victims is a few days old to a few months old. More than 60% of the victims of SBS are males. Almost 80% of the perpetrators of SBS are males. Fifty percent of offenders are natural parents, 17% are non-relatives, 17% are mothers’ boyfriends, 6% are step-parents and 10% others.
If you suspect a baby of being shaken, seek immediate medical attention. Take the child to the pediatrician or emergency room promptly. Don’t let embarrassment, guilt or fear get in the way of a child’s health or life. If the baby’s brain is damaged or bleeding inside from severe shaking, it will only get worse without treatment. Getting medical care right away may save the child’s life and prevent serious health problems from developing. Always tell the pediatrician or emergency room doctor that the baby may have been shaken. A doctor who is not aware that a child could have been shaken may assume the baby is vomiting or having trouble breathing because of an illness, colic, feeding problems or fussiness. The pediatrician should have complete information to treat the child properly.
When a baby cries, take a breath, don’t shake!
Inform everyone that cares for a baby about the dangers of shaking. Inform friends, relatives, babysitters, child care providers, brothers and sisters, and especially anyone who has had little or no experience caring for babies or young children.
An average infant may spend two to three hours a day crying. Some infants cry 20% - 30% more often. The caregiver that succumbs to the frustration of responding to a crying baby is shaking. Some caregivers may be inadequately prepared for children. They may be under stress and unable to deal with the frustrations of parenting. Some caregivers personalize the infant the crying infant by blaming themselves as inadequate parents. Shaken Baby Syndrome usually happens when the caregiver is angry and loses control.
First check that the baby’s basic needs are met. Is the baby hungry? Has the baby been burped? Is the baby’s diaper too tight or the correct size or clean? Is the baby dressed in loose fitting clothes and not too cold or warm? After the basic needs are checked, try soothing the crying baby as follows:
Remind yourself and other that we can get upset and angry. These are normal emotions. Taking care of a baby or child can be tiring and sometimes frustrating. There are ways to comfort the child and yourself, and people are nearby to help. So follow these rules: never yell at, hit or shake a baby!
If nothing works, take a time out and let the baby cry alone in a safe place like their crib. Wrap the baby snuggly in a blanket and place the baby on his back or side in a quiet, darkened room. Close the door and leave the room and get control of yourself. Babies cry, some more than others during the first year. It’s okay to let the baby cry it out rather than hitting or shaking the baby. Calm down, take a deep breath and count to 10 or higher. Let your anger out in a safe way such as listening to music, taking a hot shower, exercise or do house work. Sit in a comfortable chair or lie down and close your eyes. Call someone close to you for emotional support. Check and see if someone can take care of the baby for a while. Call the baby’s pediatrician. There may be a medical reason why the baby is crying.
Call 1-800-4-A-Child. This is a free, 24 hour child help USA National Abuse Hotline if you ever feel angry or out of control. The staff is trained and caring and ready to listen any time day or night.