Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a serious brain injury in an infant or toddler caused by forceful shaking. Babies do not have the neck strength to hold their heads steady; therefore, shaking a baby can cause the brain to move too much allowing it to hit the skull. This event may cause bruising, swelling and bleeding in the brain and the spine may also be damaged. SBS can cause permanent brain damage or death. Shaken baby syndrome is considered a form of child abuse.
Symptoms of SBS include changed mood, difficultly staying awake, paralysis, or coma. Your baby may have breathing problems and pale or bluish skin. A baby’s eating habits may also change and vomiting and tremors are common. Unseen symptoms include internal bleeding of the brain and broken bones. Some symptoms may not happen right away, but shaken baby syndrome can cause lifelong medical issues. These issues include blindness, hearing loss, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, seizures, or cerebral palsy.
In babies with SBS, the caretakers often have a history of child abuse. If the caretaker is a young or single parent they may be more likely to shake their baby in moments of distress. Caretakers who abuse alcohol or drugs are also at higher risk of shaking the baby as are those under extreme stress. People who have lived in homes with domestic violence or those affected by PTSD are more likely to shake a baby. Men are more likely than women to inflict SBS.
Doctors will diagnose SBS using physical exams, blood tests, and visual scans, such as CT scans, MRIs, or X-rays. Treatment depends on the symptoms and findings but may include breathing support and stopping any bleeding in the brain. If your baby is showing symptoms of SBS, take your child to a hospital immediately. If you think you may be at risk of shaking your baby, reach out for help. If your baby has been diagnosed with SBS, talk to their doctors about the most current treatment options.