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Shaken Baby Syndrome

by Maxine
Posted August 25 2010 05:50pm
Filed under:

It may be hard for you to believe, but some parents, grandparents, babysitters, nannies and other caregivers can become so unnerved by a baby's inconsolable crying that they can lose control and shake a baby to try to stop the crying. And the outcome is often damaging, and sometimes fatal. Below, you'll learn more about Shaken Baby Syndrome, including some of the dangerous results, how it occurs and what you can do to reduce the chance of it happening to your baby.


What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken Baby Syndrome occurs when a baby is violently shaken, which results in traumatic injury, usually to the brain or spinal cord. The shaking is not accidental, but an intentional form of child abuse. The injuries are a result of violent force and can result in permanent brain or spinal cord injury or even death.

Still not sure what activities are capable of causing Shaken Baby Syndrome? Read through the list of everyday activities below. These do not result in the types of injuries that Shaken Baby Syndrome does. 

  • Bouncing your baby on your knee
  • Swinging him in a baby swing 
  • Carrying her in a backpack while running 
  • Tossing him in the air
  • Vigorous use of these activities could scare your child and/or could cause harm if they are done before a child has good control of their head and neck muscles or able to control their balance. Use caution when you do these activities and watch your baby’s cues to determine if they like the activity or have had enough of it. 


What are the results?

Your baby's brain contains more water than yours does and is not yet as insulated as your brain is. It is actually more like jelly and, therefore, more easily damaged.

During a violent shaking, a baby's head turns and flops uncontrollably, causing the brain to strike and push against the inside of the skull. This causes internal bleeding and a great deal of damage. The results, both short- and long-term, are usually severe and permanent. It can result in death.

In the short-term, a shaken baby or child displays some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Stops breathing
  • Becomes extremely irritable 
  • Has seizures 
  • Becomes very limp or very rigid 
  • Becomes very drowsy or unconscious 
  • Vomits 
  • Becomes unable to suck, swallow, eat or drink

In the long-term, if a baby survives a violent shaking, the following results can occur:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Physical disabilities 
  • Trouble seeing or blindness 
  • Trouble hearing or deafness 
  • Trouble speaking or inability to speak 
  • Paralysis 
  • Cerebral Palsy 
  • Seizures 
  • Behavioural problems

Many times, along with head and spinal cord injuries, there are bruises, broken ribs and broken bones in the arms and legs, depending on how the baby was grabbed.


How does it happen?

The most common reason given for shaking a baby is the baby's crying. A typical baby under the age of 9 months may cry up to 3 hours a day. It is not uncommon for a baby of this age to cry more than this or to have a sensitive temperament. Not all crying has a specific cause like hunger or a soiled diaper and it can take a lot of time and patience to console your baby.

Babies are born not knowing how to soothe themselves. They need their parents to help them learn how. Some babies learn relatively quickly while others are more high strung; periods of intense crying can be part of how they communicate for several years.

A baby that cries and cries can make anyone feel frustrated and helpless. Sometimes, inconsolable crying makes adults feel inadequate, guilty or angry. Some parents or other caregivers have no one to give them a break at a critical point in a crying episode. By now, you've probably had a taste of how tiring it is to take care of a baby and when you or anyone caring for your baby is tired, these feelings can be harder to control. All of these feelings put a baby at risk of being shaken.


What other factors put babies at risk?

The following situations put babies at risk because they generally cry a lot and/or they require caregivers to have lots of patience:

  • Born a twin, triplet, etc.
  • Born prematurely 
  • Born with a low birth weight (less than 2500 grams or 5.5 pounds) 
  • Born with a medical or congenital condition 
  • Are withdrawing from their mother’s substance abuse
  • Lack good bonding with parents or caregivers 
  • Are boys under 2 years of age

Babies are also at risk if the parents, or other caregivers, such as nannies or in-home care providers, are in the following situations:

  • Lack support from family, friends or the community
  • Face challenges, such as low education, low income or other money problems 
  • Are experiencing marital or family difficulties 
  • Are violent with others or other children 
  • Have mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression 
  • Have substance abuse issues 
  • Are single parents 
  • Are experiencing stress


How can it be prevented?

You're taking the first step right now by learning all about Shaken Baby Syndrome!

Now, take the next step and think about how you feel when your baby cries for a long time. Do you feel unable to cope to the point where you feel almost out of control? Do you feel as if you have tried everything you know how to do? If the answer is yes, then keep your baby safe!

Guidelines for yourself, when your baby is inconsolable, or you are nearing the end of your patience:

  • Stop, take a deep breath and count to 10.
  • Put your baby in the crib or another safe place. 
  • Leave the room. 
  • Find a place to take a time out for yourself. 
  • Ask for help. Try to call a friend or relative to come over and be with you, to provide a little relief. 
  • Call a crisis hotline or your doctor. 
  • Check in on your baby every 3 to 5 minutes. If you're upset and can't concentrate, use a timer to remind you. 
  • Wait until you are calm and in control before going back to your baby.

Good advice for your baby's caregiver:

  • Remind sitters, nannies and other caregivers that it is even more likely that your baby will become inconsolable with them or anyone besides you, the parents.
  • Write out instructions on how you want the caregiver to respond if your baby starts crying inconsolably. 
  • Arrange for a backup or support person to be available during an emergency, and encourage your baby's caregiver to call that person, should your baby become inconsolable. 
  • Try to remain available to return early, should that become necessary.


Do you have more questions about Shaken Baby Syndrome? Ask our expert, Dr. Richard Volpe for more information on Inflicted Infant Head Trauma (a.k.a. Shaken Baby Syndrome). 


Where can I get more information or help?


EMERGENCY CHILD ABUSE: 1-800-422-4453 (1-800-4-A-CHILD)
Child Abuse Prevention Centre: 1-888-273-0071
National Centre on Shaken Baby Syndrome
Canadian Paediatric Society

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