News segments have covered stories of infants severly injured or killed by their caregivers after being shaken. In fact, if you do a news search on any search engine, right now, someone somewhere is on trial for shaking a baby and causing injury. Abusive Head Trauma, or Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), is something most of us have heard of. But, what is it?
Shaken Baby Syndrome is a form of child abuse in which a child is violently shaken. It results in damage to the brain. It can occur after as few as five seconds of shaking and is typically seen in children younger than 2 years of age, but can be seen up to age 5.
Babies have large, heavy heads and relatively weak neck muscles (which is why doctors tell us to support the head when we hold infants). Their brains are immature, therefore more susceptible to injury and the blood vessels surrounding the brain are more susceptible to tearing.
When a baby is shaken, the to and fro motion causes the head to flop forward and backward. The brain rotates inside the skull, damaging brain tissue. Blood vessels surrounding the brain may tear causing bleeding in the head. Blood buildup causes increased pressure in the skull, which leads to more brain damage. Additionally, the baby’s head may hit an object during the shaking incident, causing further injury (even if the object is soft, like a mattress or pillow).
The number one reason cited for a baby being shaken by caregivers is that the baby was crying. While that may seem obvious, that babies cry, the resulting frustration from being unable to soothe the baby leads these caregivers to shake the infant. Other triggers cited include toileting or feeding issues that have led to the caregivers’ frustration or anger.
Review of identified cases of SBS reveal that 60% of the victims are male, and children of families who live at or below the poverty level are at an increased risk for these injuries as well as any type of child abuse. Perpetrators in 65% to 90% of cases are males — usually either the baby’s father or the mother’s boyfriend, often in his early twenties.
Symptoms of SBS include convulsions, loss of consciousness, extreme irritability or other changes in behavior, sleepiness, not smiling, loss of vision, no breathing, pale or bluish skin, poor feeding, lack of appetite and vomiting.
The consequences for the child with Shaken Baby Syndrome are extensive and can include:
- Learning disabilities
- Physical disabilities
- Visual disabilities or blindness
- Hearing impairment
- Speech disabilities
- Cerebral Palsy
- Behavior disorders
- Cognitive impairment
Only 30% of documented cases recovered fully following the incident.
Prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome:
•NEVER shake a baby or child in play or in anger. Even gentle shaking can become violent shaking when you are angry.
•Do not hold your baby during an argument.
•If you find yourself becoming annoyed or angry with your baby, put him in the crib and leave the room. Try to calm down. Call someone for support.
•Call a friend or relative to come and stay with the child if you feel out of control.
•Contact a local crisis hotline or child abuse hotline for help and guidance.
•Seek the help of a counselor and attend parenting classes.
•Do not ignore the signs if you suspect child abuse in your home or in the home of someone you know.
Prevention of Shaken Baby Syndrome is the responsibility of us all. National agencies should share the information given here, particularly to those most at risk of conducting this abuse. Daycare and preschool workers should also be made aware. This is an unfortunate occurrence, but with knowledge comes power.