Shaken baby syndrome can cause brain damage, death

  • Published
  • By Kathy LeCrone
  • Vance AFB Family Advocacy
"Why won't you stop crying?!" the frustrated sitter asked, shaking the child like a baby doll.
After the parents return they look in on their sleeping infant, only to find him unconscious.
Shaken Baby Syndrome is a serious brain injury that occurs when a caregiver "shakes" a child. It is considered a serious form of child abuse. Victims are usually less than one year old, the majority of them being less than six months. There are an estimated 1,500 victims per year.
When a child is shaken back and forth in a "whiplash" motion, delicate veins over the brain tear and bleed, causing pressure on the brain, which destroys brain tissue. The damaged brain begins to swell. This swelling and pressure pushes down on the brain stem, which controls the vital functions such as heart rate and breathing. If the swelling and pressure are not stopped, the child will die.
Individuals at risk of shaking children often have little or no experience in caring for an infant.
Symptoms of SBS can range from mild forms of irritability, poor feeding, vomiting and lethargy to the more serious symptoms of breathing difficulties, seizures, coma and death. Children who have any of these symptoms should receive immediate medical attention.
Twenty-five to 30 percent of SBS victims die. The remaining survivors suffer from one or all of these impairments:
n Permanent brain damage
n Blindness
n Deafness
n Severe learning and behavioral problems
n Permanent vegetative state
Everyone who cares for a child must learn shaking is dangerous and can be deadly. Studies have shown 25 to 50 percent of teenagers and adults did not know that shaking a baby could be dangerous. Studies also show fathers are the abusers of SBS victims 37 percent of the time, boyfriends of mothers 21 percent of the time, female child care providers 17.3 percent of the time and mothers 12.6 percent of the time. Males are the abusers 70 percent of the time.
To cope with a crying baby:
n Make sure the baby's basic needs (food, diapering, appropriate clothing, etc.) are met.
n Offer the baby a pacifier.
n Take the baby for a ride in a stroller or a car.
n Walk the baby around, holding him close.
n Give a warm bath or infant massage.
n Take a deep breath and count to 10.
n Call a friend, relative or neighbor.
n If all else fails, put the baby in his crib making sure he is safe, close the door and check on him every five minutes or so.
n Call a pediatrician. There may be a medical reason why the child is crying.
Child care providers who cannot handle a crying baby should let the parent know. As a child care professional, honest feedback is appreciated.
For information or help, call Ms. LeCrone at 7419, Childhelp USA at
(800) 4-A-CHILD, the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse at
(800) CHILDREN or the Shaken Baby Alliance at (877) 6-END-SBS. Information is also available at or e-mail
(71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs contributed to this article.)