Shaken Baby Syndrome

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma?

SBS/AHT (shaken baby syndrome/abusive head trauma) is a term used to describe the constellation of signs and
symptoms resulting from violent shaking or shaking and impacting of the head of an infant or small child.

What happens when you shake a baby?

The brain rotates within the skull cavity, injuring or destroying brain tissue.  When shaking occurs, blood vessels
feeding the brain can be torn, leading to bleeding around the brain. Blood pools within the skull, sometimes creating more pressure within the skull and possibly causing additional brain damage. Retinal (back of the eye) bleeding is very common.

Why is shaking a baby so dangerous?

Babies' heads are relatively large and heavy, making up about 25% of their total body weight. Their neck muscles are too weak to support such a disproportionately large head. Babies' brains are immature and more easily injured by shaking. Babies' blood vessels around the brain are more susceptible to tearing than older children or adults.

What are the signs and symptoms of shaken baby syndrome?

There are various signs and symptoms of shaken baby syndrome. The consequences of less severe cases may not be brought to the attention of medical professionals and may never be diagnosed. In most severe cases, which usually result in death or severe neurological consequences, the child usually becomes immediately unconscious and suffers rapidly escalating, life-threatening central nervous system dysfunction.

Any of these injuries can lead to severe disability or death. If you suspect a child has been shaken, seek medical attention immediately. This could be the difference between life and death.

Common Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome:

Lethargy / decreased muscle tone
Extreme irritability
Decreased appetite, poor feeding or vomiting for no apparent reason
Grab-type bruises on arms or chest are rare
No smiling or vocalization
Poor sucking or swallowing
Rigidity or posturing
Difficulty breathing
Head or forehead appears larger than usual or soft-spot on head appears to be bulging
Inability to lift head
Inability of eyes to focus or track movement or unequal size of pupils
What are the physical consequences of shaking a baby?
Learning disabilities
Physical disabilities
Visual disabilities or blindness
Hearing impairment
Speech disabilities
Cerebral Palsy
Behavior disorders
Cognitive impairment
The statistics on SBS/AHT 
Shaken Baby Syndrome in Numbers:

  • There are an estimated 50,000 cases a year, about 1200-1400 cases are reported.
  • 1 out of 4 babies who are shaken die from their injuries.
  • Of the babies who do not die from their injuries approxiametly 80-85% will be mentally or physically disabled.
  • Only 15% of babies escape serious damage.
  • SBS is the leading cause of death in child abuse cases involving children less than one year of age.
  • SBS can occur in newborns up to children 5 years of age. 
  • Statistics point to men as the usual perpetrators, typically young men (i.e., early 20s). Females who shake babies tend to be caregivers.
  • Some 20 to 50% of adult caregivers and parents said they did not know shaking a baby could have such terrible effects.

For more information:  www.preventshakenbaby.org