Shaken Baby Syndrome– also known as abusive head trauma, shaken impact syndrome, inflicted head injury or whiplash shake syndrome– is a serious brain injury resulting from forcefully shaking an infant or very young child.
Shaken Baby Syndrome destroys a child’s brain cells and prevents their brain from getting enough oxygen. Shaken Baby Syndrome is a form of child abuse that can result in permanent brain damage or death. Shaken Baby Syndrome is preventable. Parents also can educate other caregivers about the dangers of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Click here to learn more.
Abusive head trauma (AHT) is an injury to a child’s brain as a result of child abuse. It can be caused by direct blows to the head, dropping or throwing a child, or shaking a child.
Head trauma is the leading cause of death in child abuse cases in the United States. Because the anatomy of infants puts them at particular risk for injury from this kind of action, the majority of victims are infants younger than 1 year old.
SBS can happen in children up to 5 years old, but the average age of victims is between 3 and 8 months. The highest rate of cases is among infants just 6 to 8 weeks old, which is when babies tend to cry the most.
How Do Head Trauma Injuries Happen?
These injuries happen when someone (most often a parent or other caregiver) vigorously shakes a child or strikes the child’s head against a surface. In many cases, the caregiver can’t get the baby to stop crying, and out of frustration or anger, shakes the baby. Unfortunately, the shaking may have the desired effect: The baby cries more at first, but may stop crying as the brain is damaged.
When someone forcefully shakes a baby, the child’s head rotates uncontrollably. This is because infants’ neck muscles aren’t well developed and provide little support for their heads. This violent movement pitches the baby’s brain back and forth within the skull, sometimes rupturing blood vessels and nerves throughout the brain and tearing the brain tissue. The brain may strike the inside of the skull, causing bruising and bleeding to the brain.
The damage can be even greater when a shaking episode ends with an impact (hitting a wall or a crib mattress, for example), because the forces of acceleration and deceleration associated with an impact are so strong. After the shaking, swelling in the brain can cause enormous pressure within the skull, compressing blood vessels and increasing overall injury to the brain’s delicate structure.
Normal interaction with a child, like bouncing the baby on a knee or tossing the baby up in the air, will not cause these injuries. But it’s important to never shake a baby under any circumstances!
What Can Happen to a Baby With Head Trauma?
Shaken Baby Syndrome often causes irreversible damage, and about 1 in every 4 cases results in the baby’s death.
Children who survive may also experience:
- partial or total blindness
- hearing loss
- developmental delays
- impaired intellect
- speech and learning difficulties
- problems with memory and attention
- severe mental retardation
- cerebral palsy
Even babies who look normal immediately after the shaking might eventually develop one or more of these problems. Sometimes the first sign of a problem isn’t noticed until the child enters the school system and has behavioral or learning problems. But by that time, it’s harder to link these problems to a shaking incident from several years before.
Scott Juceam is one of the leading advocates against Shaken Baby Syndrome. Scott’s life changed when his daughter Hannah was shaken to death by her nanny in 2006. Since then, Scott has dedicated his life to preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome and child abuse.
*Information listed above comes from the Mayo Clinic.