Shaken Baby Syndrome

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome is a condition that is also often referred to as shaken impact syndrome or abusive head trauma. It occurs as the result of severe child abuse and may also be known as whiplash shake syndrome or an inflicted traumatic brain injury. Whatever name is used, the condition is a form of traumatic injury to the brain that occurs when a child, particularly an infant, is abused.

There are numerous ways in which a child can sustain an injury that qualifies as shaken baby syndrome. A child may sustain direct impact injuries to their head from being hit with fists or objects, kicked, dropped, or thrown. Shaking a child can also cause this type of traumatic injury to the brain and thus gives the condition its most common name. Many parents who engage in this abusive behavior do so out of frustration because the child is crying a great deal. Anger can also cause a parent to be too rough with their child.

This condition occurs in infants and toddlers. Very young children and babies have weaker neck muscles than older children and adults. Because of this, even a little shaking or trauma to the neck and/or head can cause serious injuries to those areas. When the child is shaken, their brain moves around in ways it should not which can result in oxygen deprivation to the brain, brain cell death, and permanent damage and impairment (even death).

What are the Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Symptoms of shaken baby syndrome vary depending on the severity of the trauma to the child’s brain. A child who has suffered from shaken baby syndrome may seem irritable or grouchy and may show little to no interest in eating. Other symptoms of shaken baby syndrome include extreme difficult remaining awake, vomiting, reduced heart rate, skin discoloration, and trouble breathing.

Seizures, tremors, paralysis, coma, and the like can also occur immediately following the traumatic brain injury. If a child survives shaken baby syndrome, there may also be long-term symptoms including developmental delays, intellectual impairments, hearing loss, vision impairments or blindness, and memory or attention problems.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Causes

An infant or toddler should never be violently shaken no matter how much it seems to ease the anguish of having to listen to unwanted crying from them. A parent or caretaker can sometimes experience a great deal of frustration or anger from having to deal with the cries of a child, and it is then that they often deal to harshly with the problem. The shaking is more likely than not to cause brain damage which is almost always irreversible. The weak neck muscles of an infant do not allow for the necessary support that an adult is accustomed to. Therefore, the brain will be violently thrown against the inside of the skull repeatedly leading to problematic bruising, bleeding and swelling.

How is Shaken Baby Syndrome Treated?

Shaken baby syndrome is considered to be an emergency health crisis and immediate care is required. Common treatments for this serious condition include oxygen therapy and the use of assistive breathing devices, IV medications to reduce swelling in the brain, and medications to stop seizures. If there is bleeding in the brain that is severe and does not subside on its own, surgery may be necessary. Additionally, if brain pressure and swelling do not go down with medications, surgery may be required for this as well. And eye swelling, bleeding, or damage to the eyes may require surgery to prevent total blindness.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention

The best way to prevent such problems is to simply avoid violently agitating the baby in order to prevent them from crying out or for any other reason. It is also critical to provide the child with the necessary milk protein and other healthy diet sources so that they can develop the necessary neck muscles in the proper timeframe. This will help to lessen the interval of time in which the infant or toddler is vulnerable to such brain damage. It is very necessary that the parent and caretakers have alternative means of dealing with their stress which does not include the shaking that will lead to such a shaken baby syndrome. By following the aforementioned advice it is unlikely that any of the brain trauma will occur. Anyone who suspects that a child is the victim of child abuse should take the necessary steps in order to help alleviate the problem. Ensure that everyone who may come in contact with children is aware of the reality of shaken baby syndrome.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 07, 2017