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Shaken Baby Syndrome

What is shaken baby syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome is a medical term for the injuries caused by violently shaking a baby. Shaking a baby’s head can damage the brain and cause a lack of oxygen and even cause death. Shaking a baby is child abuse.

What is the cause?

Usually babies are shaken by a parent or a caregiver, but it can be done by any adult. People caring for the baby may get angry or frustrated, often because the child is crying.

Gently bouncing a baby in play does not cause shaken baby syndrome.

What are the symptoms?

A baby who has been shaken may:

  • Have a change in behavior, such as being more sleepy or being very fussy
  • Not eat well
  • Vomit
  • Have seizures
  • Stop breathing off and on
  • Be unconscious

Shaken baby syndrome may cause only mild symptoms at first, but shaken babies can have severe mental and physical problems for the rest of their lives. Even if a baby looks normal right after the shaking, over time the baby may have problems such as:

  • Blindness
  • Hearing loss
  • A delay in walking and talking
  • Problems with speech, learning, growth, and behavior
  • Seizures
  • Trouble paying attention and remembering things

If you think your baby has been shaken, get emergency care right away. Tell healthcare providers that you think your baby has been shaken. It may save your baby's life.

How is it diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will ask about your child's symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your child may have tests such as:

  • X-rays
  • CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of the brain
  • MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the brain

How is it treated?

A child with shaken baby syndrome needs to be treated in a hospital. The goal is to stop any further brain damage. Treatment depends on your child's injuries, and may include:

  • Oxygen, or if trouble breathing, a tube put down your baby’s throat and connected to a machine to help your baby breathe
  • Surgery to treat the bleeding and swelling in the brain
  • A cast or splint for broken bones
  • Medicine for seizures
  • Draining fluid from the baby’s head

Several specialists may care for your baby. Even with prompt treatment, your child may need lifelong medical care.

How can I help prevent shaken baby syndrome?

  • NEVER shake a baby.
  • If you find yourself getting frustrated or angry with the baby, put the baby in the crib or another safe place and leave the room until you calm down or until help arrives. Before you leave the room, make sure the baby is safe. For example, remove pillows and stuffed animals from the crib. If you place the baby in an infant carrier, make sure it cannot fall off a bed or it is not close to stairs.
  • If you feel that your baby is crying too much and you cannot cope with it, get help. Call a friend or relative for support or to take care of the baby for a little while. Also call your healthcare provider. There may be a medical reason why your baby is crying.
  • Don’t hold your baby during an argument or fight.
  • Don’t leave your baby with someone who is drinking or using drugs, or who may be angry or violent.
  • Only use childcare providers who are licensed. Check their references before you leave your child with them. Make unannounced visits at different times of the day.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-09-24
Last reviewed: 2014-12-15
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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