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Shaken Baby Syndrome: Protect Your Infant from Abusive Head Trauma

Caring for a new baby can be very stressful for parents and caregivers. The crying, late-night feedings, constant changing of diapers, and resulting stress and exhaustion can push many caregivers to their limit. It's important to have strategies to ensure you are caring for yourself and that your frustration and exhaustion don't result in harm to your baby.

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), also known as Abusive Head Trauma, is a preventable traumatic brain injury that happens when a parent or other caregiver violently shakes a baby or toddler by the shoulders, arms, or legs out of frustration, often because the baby will not stop crying. SBS may result from both shaking alone or from shaking with impact with or against an object.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control, SBS is a leading cause of child abuse death in the United States. Babies, newborn to one year (especially babies ages 2 to 4 months old), are extremely vulnerable to injuries from shaking because their neck muscles are not strong enough to control the motion of their heads. Shaking them violently can trigger a “whiplash” effect that can lead to internal injuries - including bleeding in the brain or in the eyes.  Often there are no obvious external signs, such as bruising or bleeding, to indicate an injury but SBS can lead to permanent disability and even death.
Babies suffering from SBS may exhibit:

  • Drowsiness accompanied by irritability.
  • Unresponsiveness.
  • Poor eating.
  • Difficulty breathing. 
  • Vomiting.
  • Convulsions or seizures.
  • Cardiac arrest.

The prognosis for victims of SBS is generally poor. Many cases are fatal or lead to severe neurological deficits and disabilities, including:

  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Paralysis
  • Vision loss or blindness
  • Mental retardation
  • Epilepsy
  • Death

Prevention Tips:

SBS is completely preventable. Long bouts of inconsolable crying is normal for healthy babies, who may cry for as long as 1 to 2 hours, and can be tough for parents and caregivers to handle, especially when they are physically tired and mentally exhausted.  However, it is never safe to shake, throw, hit, slam, or jerk any child - and it never solves the problem!
If you're feeling frustrated with your baby's crying, try the following:

  • Take a deep breath and count to 10.
  • Make sure your baby's basic needs have been met. Consider that your baby may need a diaper change, be hungry, too hot, cold, or sick.
  • If you have tried to calm your crying baby and nothing seems to work, take a time out. Place your baby in a safe place, like a crib or playpen, and take a break.
  • Call someone for emotional support.
  • Call your pediatrician. There may be a medical reason why the baby is crying.
  • Make sure everyone in contact with your baby is aware of the dangers of shaking infants, even in play. Anyone can shake a baby - a mother, father, sibling, or childcare provider.

If you know or suspect a baby has been shaken, call 911 or immediately take your child to the nearest emergency room. Getting emergency medical care could prevent serious health problems and may save a baby's life.

For more tips about how to manage stress and fatigue to prevent SBS, visit:

The Shaken Baby Alliance
The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome
The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome