Shaken baby syndrome refers to a type of brain injury that happens when a baby or a toddler is shaken violently. More often than not, this shaking is perpetuated by someone who has normal contact with the baby. Shaking can cause bleeding in the brain (subdural hemorrhages) or bleeding in the retinas (retinal hemorrhages).
When a child is shaken, the brain bounces back and forth against the sides of the skull. Infants’ heads are very large and heavy in proportion to the rest of their bodies. This causes swelling, bruising, and bleeding in the brain.
If you see someone shaking or abusing a baby (physically or verbally), don’t wait! Intervene immediately, and call the police.
What are the symptoms of SBS?
A child or baby who has been shaken and has pressure on the brain may have symptoms such as these:
- Extreme irritability
- Poor appetite or feeding problems
- Breathing difficulties
- Convulsions (seizures)
- Lethargy (extreme tiredness, lack of movement, inability to stay awake)
- Pale- or blue-colored skin
- Bruising, such as grab marks, on the arms or chest
- A forehead that appears larger than usual, or a soft spot that seems to be bulging
- Inability to lift his or her head
- Tremors (the shakes)
- Inability to focus or follow movement with his or her eyes
Who is most at risk for SBS?
SBS happens most often in infants up to one year, with infants aged two to four months being most at-risk. SBS does not usually happen after age two, but children as old as five or six can be damaged in this way if the shaking is extremely violent.
Why do people shake babies?
There are a number of reasons that explain why someone might shake a baby, but none of those reasons are valid. It’s a crime to shake a baby, and the consequences could mean the death of a young child.
How is SBS treated?
SBS should be treated immediately. Parents or caregivers need to take the child for emergency medical attention as soon as they are aware that the baby has been shaken. The adults should also tell the healthcare provider that the baby has been shaken. Caregivers who are not telling the truth may say that the child has fallen. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, children may require treatment such as respiratory support or surgery to stop bleeding.
Some symptoms show up right away, but others may not show up until later. Some children may experience attention problems and behavior problems later in life due to being shaken when they were infants.
How is SBS diagnosed?
Health care providers do not always get the truth about whether or not shaking was involved in an injury. Also, babies and very small children cannot tell doctors or nurses what happened or what hurts. Many symptoms of SBS (such as irritability, vomiting, or lethargy) are also common for minor conditions like viral infections.
It has been suggested that doctors should use additional tests when a brain injury appears possible. X-rays can show skull fractures and doctors may suggest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests or computed tomography (CT) scans. Special attention should be given to evidence of retinal bleeding (bleeding at the back of the eyes).
Is SBS preventable?
Yes. Do not shake babies or children, EVER.
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.