In this blog post to support National Child Safety and Prevention Month, we discuss Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Caring for a crying newborn can definitely test you as parent. It’s loud, distressing, and emotionally exhausting—combine that with sleep deprivation and it’s enough to send you screaming into another room.
Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is the leading cause of death from child abuse in the nation. Every year, there are 1,300 cases of SBS in the U.S. alone.
SBS most often occurs when a caregiver becomes frustrated with a baby’s crying and tries to stop the crying by violently shaking the baby. Even though shaking a baby who is crying makes the crying worse, this illogical response to a crying baby can happen, especially when the caregiver is alone, tired, depressed, male, or not related to the baby.
SBS, also called Abusive Head Trauma, is the name of a collection of injuries to an infant’s brain caused by violent shaking. Because babies’ heads are larger in proportion to their bodies and their neck muscles are relatively weak, when babies are shaken, their heads move violently back and forth on their bodies. This causes the brain to be damaged by hitting the inside of the skull.
80% of babies who suffer SBS have significant brain damage, including learning problems, seizures, blindness and other issues, which are long lasting. Twenty-five percent of victims die.
Signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome include a baby who has:
- Lethargy or the opposite, extreme irritability.
- Inability to suck or nurse, or has repeated vomiting.
- An abnormally large-appearing head or soft spot.
- Bruises on the trunk.
- Seizures, trouble breathing, no smiling or cooing.
- Trouble moving or seeing.
Sometimes people worry that SBS can be caused by activities such as bouncing babies on knees or laps, throwing them in the air and catching them, or riding on bicycles. While some of these activities might be dangerous, they do not cause SBS-type injuries.
Crying in babies can be frustrating. Understanding why babies cry and how to successfully deal with crying can help decrease injuries and deaths due to SBS. The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome has launched a campaign, called Purple Crying, in an effort to help families understand how to deal with normal crying in infants. They remind people that normal crying in infants:
- Has a peak of incidence (and will get better!).
- Can be unexpected and happen for no reason.
- Can resist soothing no matter what we do.
- Can look like a baby’s in pain, but they usually are not.
- Can be long lasting, even for hours.
- Often gets worse in the afternoon and evening.
If your baby is crying, try:
- Gently rock or bounce your baby in your arms or a bouncy seat. Many babies like gentle motion.
- If you can, go outside and walk with baby in your arms, a carrier or a stroller. Getting outside might soothe her and make you feel better.
- If you’re alone, make sure baby is fed, changed, and in a safe place (crib) and go into another room to regroup for a few minutes.
- Remember that crying is normal, is not your fault, and will not in and of itself hurt your baby.
- Ask for help. A friend or family member who can watch baby even for a half hour, even if you don’t actually leave the house, can be a lifesaver. Try to make sure it’s someone who understands that a baby crying is normal and okay.
Babies should NEVER BE SHAKEN. Educating and supporting families, parents, and caregivers can help decrease the incidence and heartbreak caused by Shaken Baby Syndrome.