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The Dangers of Shaken Baby Syndrome


Many well-intentioned, responsible people who would never dream of hitting a child, think nothing of giving a small child a "good shaking." But while such punishment was generally considered harmless until a few years ago, research now indicates that even mild or moderate shaking can cause serious disabilities and even death. Children may also be accidentally injured by being shaken or jostled in rough play activities. Often referred to as "Shaken Baby Syndrome," this is a serious injury which can have devastating results. Long-term brain damage can result from as few as 20 seconds of forcible shaking.

A young infant has very weak neck muscles and only gradually develops the strength to control his heavy head. If he is shaken, his head wobbles rapidly back and forth, causing the baby's fragile brain to slam against the skull wall. This can cause brain damage or brain bruising, spinal cord injuries, blindness or even death. Some lifelong consequences of Shaken Baby Syndrome include paralysis, mental retardation, seizure disorders and impaired motor and sensory skills. Severe damage of this type is most common in very young infants, but it may occur in children as old as three or four.

Parents and caregivers may shake a baby in anger and frustration because they cannot stop him from crying. The average baby cries for approximately two hours every day, and many times even highly trained and experienced caregivers can't figure out why he is upset or find a way to make him quiet down. Inexperienced, overburdened parents or those with substance abuse problems become frustrated and irritated even more quickly. When the caregiver reaches the breaking point, he or she picks up the baby and shakes it to get the baby to stop crying. This is when the damage can, and usually does, occur.

Some babies or young children may also be injured by play activities which can whiplash the head and lead to permanent brain damage. These include: repeated, vigorous tossing of a small child into the air, jogging while carrying an infant on the back or shoulders, "riding a horse" (child faces the adult while sitting on his swinging foot or bouncing on the knee), and swinging the child around while holding onto his hands or feet. Anyone who will be playing with a very young child, including babysitters, grandparents and older siblings, should be warned to avoid any type of play which can shake or jerk his head.


These tips for preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome are the advice of several leading pediatricians knowledgeable in this field:

The most important rule to remember is never shake an infant under the age of two, for any reason.

Always provide support for your baby's head when holding, playing with or transporting him. Instruct others who care for your infant in the proper support of the head.

You may find it helpful to take a parenting class, where you will learn ways to deal with the frustrations of taking care of your baby, methods to help your baby stop crying, and what to expect at each stage of his growth and development.

Learn what to do if your baby won't stop crying. It is important to realize that the baby is not crying just to make you crazy or because he is spoiled. He may be hungry, sick, wet, cold or hot, or need to burp. After these basic needs have been considered and checked, if the baby is still crying you may need to just let him cry for a few minutes and go into another room until you can calm down enough to deal with the situation. If you have had all you can take, wrap the baby in a soft blanket and put him on his side (in a quiet, dark room if possible). If someone else can stay with the baby for awhile, take a walk to clear your head. Letting the baby cry it out is far safer than shaking or punishing him.

Remember, your child will pass through this stage eventually. You need to find a way to deal with it while it is happening without losing your temper. Losing your temper for just an instant is all it takes to cause damage which will last a lifetime.

If you shake the baby, either accidentally or on purpose, or if you suspect that some one else did, it is imperative that you get the baby to the emergency room immediately. Bleeding inside the brain can be treated, but only if you tell the doctors that the baby was shaken. This may be embarrassing to admit, but it will save your baby a lot of problems in the future...and possibly even save his life.

The preceding information was provided by WE CAN, Inc., the Nevada Chapter of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. For further information on parenting or child abuse prevention, contact WE CAN at 702-368-1533 ( or the NCPCA at 1-800-4ACHILD ( For further information or a catalog of teaching materials concerning Shaken Baby Syndrome, contact Child Abuse Prevention Center at 888-273-0071 ( or SBS Prevention Plus at 800-858-5222 (

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