What Is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

What Is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Last update: 21 February, 2018

Shaken baby syndrome is one of the most tragic consequences of child abuse, and among the most common.

It arises when a child has been violently shaken, causing their brain to bump against the inside of the skull and leading to irreversible and often fatal injuries.

Babies’ heads are small and very sensitive. A baby’s brain is large in relation to their skull. This is why shaking a baby can crush their brain mass against their skull, causing inflammation and internal bleeding.

This condition does not generally have any notable external symptoms. This means it might not be possible to tell whether someone has shaken a baby.

There are no sudden changes or telltale signs to look out for.

Under what conditions should we talk about shaken baby syndrome?

Surprising though it might seem, even a brief shaking for less than 10 seconds could be enough to cause shaken baby syndrome. It can occur when the baby hits their head, or when an adult shakes them, generally not by accident.

In newborns and small babies, even the smallest bump on the head can cause injury. Even blows from soft objects, such as being hit with a cushion or thrown against a mattress, are enough to cause damage.

The syndrome is most common in children under two years of age, but it can occur in children as old as five. In general, it happens when a child is mistreated or physically abused.

However, it can occasionally occur due to minor shaking, such as jogging with your baby in your arms, lifting them up and down too quickly or bouncing them in the air.

What Is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

In fatal cases, shaken babies may be affected by whiplash, just like victims of car accidents.

What are the symptoms?

When a child is suffering from shaken baby syndrome, the parents don’t tend to talk much about the symptoms, since the condition tends to be associated with cases of child abuse.

In some cases, doctors may not identify it, since nobody expects this situation to occur.

However, there is a general pattern of symptoms that can point to shaken baby syndrome, including the following:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Respiratory distress
  • Reduced vision
  • Convulsions
  • Drowsiness or lethargy
  • Lack of appetite or vomiting
  • Unusual behavior
  • Lack of alertness
  • Change in skin tone; pale or bluish skin

What to do about shaken baby syndrome

What Is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

It is common for some people to feel stressed when they hear a baby crying, to the point where they shake the baby impulsively. It may be difficult for parents to know if the person caring for their child has mistreated them.

However, you may come across this situation with family members, or witness a stranger shaking their baby.

In this scenario, the most important thing is to help the child. If they have stopped breathing, have fainted or are convulsing, basic first aid can be given, preferably by a trained expert.

Next, let the authorities know. This is a case of child abuse.

However, it is far better to prevent this type of situation than to treat shaken baby syndrome. Be very careful to avoid shaking your baby in any way.

Make sure that anyone who will look after your child is patient and tolerant around little ones.

Shaking a crying child will not calm them down, and is extremely dangerous. Instead, use sound, such as the radio; sing or speak to the child gently.

If you are tired and stressed, ask someone to lend a hand while you get some rest. A baby can cry for multiple reasons.

Sometimes there is a simple reason for their tears, so check whether they are in pain or something is bothering them.

Crying will not do a baby any harm. Shaking them, on the other hand, is extremely dangerous.

If a child is already suffering from shaken baby syndrome, it is very important that doctors know all the symptoms and are aware of any other relevant information.

The most important thing is the health of the child.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Campos Rufo, M. El síndrome del niño sacudido. Cuad Med Forense, 12(43-44), Enero-Abril 2006.
  • P. Abenia Usón, S. Ferraz Sopena, F. Guirado Giménez, J.A. Rábano Rodríguez, A. Gastón Faci, F.J. López Pisón. Encefalopatía aguda y colección pericerebral en el “síndrome del lactante sacudido”. An Esp Pediatr 1999;50:610-612.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.