Shaken baby syndrome is caused by forcefully and violently shaking a baby. Other names for this condition include abusive head trauma, shaken impact syndrome, whiplash shake syndrome, and inflicted head injury. Shaken baby syndrome is a form of child abuse that causes severe brain damage. It can result from as few as five seconds of shaking.
Babies have soft brains and weak neck muscles. They also have delicate blood vessels. Shaking a baby or young child can cause his or her brain to repeatedly hit the inside of the skull. This impact can trigger bruising of the brain, bleeding in the brain, and brain swelling. Other injuries can include damage to a babys eyes, spine, and neck as well as broken bones.
Shaken baby syndrome is more common in children under the age of 2 but can occur in children as old as 5. Newborns and babies may sometimes fall off of a bed or down the stairs. These incidents rarely result in shaken baby syndrome. This condition does not result from bouncing a baby on the lap or playfully tossing a baby in the air. It is a serious and deliberate form of abuse.
If you believe that your baby or another baby is a victim of shaken baby syndrome, call 911 right away. This condition is life threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
Physical signs of abuse do not always occur with shaken baby syndrome. However, an X-ray or eye examination by a doctor may show signs of trauma. A doctor may detect rib fractures or notice bleeding behind a babys eyes.
If symptoms do appear with shaken baby syndrome, they may include:
To diagnose shaken baby syndrome, a doctor will look for the three conditions that often indicate the syndrome. These are:
To make the diagnosis and check for signs of brain damage, a doctor will order a variety of tests. These tests may include:
Some other medical conditions can mimic the symptoms of shaken baby syndrome. These include certain genetic disorders (such as osteogenesis imperfecta, which causes a babys bones to break easily) and bleeding disorders. Before confirming shaken baby syndrome, a doctor will order a blood test to rule out other causes.
If you suspect shaken baby syndrome, call 911 immediately. Some babies and children will stop breathing after being shaken. If this occurs, CPR can keep the child breathing while you wait for medical personnel to arrive.
The National Institutes of Health recommend the following steps to perform CPR:
Vomiting may also occur after being shaken. To prevent choking, gently roll the baby onto his or her side. Roll his or her entire body at the same time. If there is spinal cord injury, this method of rolling reduces the risk of further damage to the spine. It is important that you do not pick up the baby or give the baby food or water.
There is no medication to treat shaken baby syndrome. In severe cases, surgery may be required to treat bleeding in the brain. This may involve placement of a shunt (a thin tube) to drain excess blood and fluid and relieve pressure. Eye surgery may also be needed to remove blood before it permanently affects vision.
Irreversible brain damage from shaken baby syndrome can occur in a matter of seconds. Complications associated with shaking a baby include:
According to the Mayo Clinic, the death rate for shaken baby syndrome is 50 percent (Mayo Clinic).
Shaken baby syndrome is preventable. You can avoid harming your baby by never shaking him or her. If youre angry or arguing with another person, do not hold your baby; you may accidentally shake your baby during an emotional outburst. If you feel yourself losing control, put your baby in his or her crib, and call a friend or family member for support. You can also receive guidance and help from a crisis hotline, such as the Boys Town National Hotline (1-800-448-3000), or a counselor.
If you have family members or other caregivers stay with your baby, be sure they are aware of the dangers of shaken baby syndrome.
If you suspect that a child is the victim of child abuse, do not ignore the problem. Call the local police or the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD.