Shaken baby syndrome is a group of symptoms in babies or small children. They may be temporary problems, severe disabilities, or death. The symptoms are caused by injuries from a violent shaking or hit to the head. The severity of the symptoms will depend on the type of injuries to the baby's brain.
Shaken baby syndrome is caused by shaking or jerking a baby or young child. Even a few seconds of shaking can injure a baby. Babies and young children are more vulnerable to injuries from this type of movement because:
Shaken baby syndrome usually happens when a parent or other caregiver becomes angry or frustrated. It often happens because the baby will not stop crying.
The following factors increase the chance of a shaking injury:
Symptoms can vary based on the severity of the injury. The injury depends on the length of time the baby is shaken or how hard the baby's head has hit a surface. Injuries caused by shaking are often extremely serious and can include:
These are serious symptoms. If your baby has any of the above symptoms, then go to the emergency room right away.
There are not always bruises or other signs of injury to the child’s head or body. If there are visible injuries they may be:
Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. An eye exam may also be done. Your child may be referred to doctors who specialize in brain injuries. This may include a neurologist or neurosurgeon.
Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with:
Your child's bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
It is important to get medical care right away if your baby is severely or violently shaken. Immediately take your child to an emergency room. Early medical care may decrease the amount of brain damage. Don't let embarrassment, guilt, or fear get in the way of protecting your child's health or life.
The goal of immediate care is to stop any further brain damage and support the baby. Early intervention is treatment or therapy to help your baby's long term recovery.
Your child's treatment plan will be based on the specific injuries your child has. Some steps for immediate care include:
If the baby survives the injuries, the full recovery can take months to years. This type of injury can impair or delay motor skills like eating, walking, or speech. Early intervention is a form of rehabilitation. It can help your child develop motor skills as expected. The treatments include work with a team of doctors, nurses, and rehabilitation therapists. The sooner this treatment starts, the better your baby will do over time.
A family therapist is also important. This therapy will help your family with emotional issues related to your child’s injury.
If your baby is diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome, follow your doctor's instructions .
It is important to talk to anyone caring for your baby about the dangers of shaking. Taking care of a crying baby can be very frustrating for anyone. If you have tried to calm the crying baby, but feel like nothing is working, then stay in control of your temper. Keep from hurting the baby out of frustration. If you feel you might lose control, take the following steps:
Share this information with anyone who is caring for the baby.
American Academy of Pediatrics
Brain Injury Association of America
Brain Injury Association of Nipissing
Shaken Baby Syndrome
Caring for Kids
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Patient Information - Shaken baby syndrome. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Shaken%20Baby%20Syndrome.aspx. Accessed July 24, 2012.
Shaken baby syndrome. American Humane Association website. Available at: http://www.americanhumane.org/children/stop-child-abuse/fact-sheets/shaken-baby-syndrome.html. Published November 2005. Accessed September 5, 2013.
Traumatic brain injury in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated July 15, 2013. Accessed September 5, 2013.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.