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Shaken Baby Syndrome

The Child Abuse Prevention Services Department of the National Exchange Club is committed to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Shaken Baby Syndrome is a form of Abusive Head Trauma and recent literature often links these two terms. This page provides information about this form of child abuse.

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma (SBS/AHT) is a term used to describe a collection of signs and symptoms resulting from violent shaking or shaking and impacting of the head of an infant or small child. When a baby is vigorously shaken, the head moves back and forth. This sudden whiplash motion may or may not include a blow to the head, but does lead to a distinct pattern of injuries. Shaken Baby Syndrome occurs most frequently in infants younger than six months old, yet can occur up to the age of three. Although there are often no obvious outward signs of injury, serious bleeding may occur, particularly inside the head or behind the eyes. In reality, shaking a baby, if only for a few seconds, can injure the baby for life. These injuries can include brain swelling and damage, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, developmental delays, blindness, hearing loss, paralysis, or death.

Abusive head injuries are the most common cause of death in child abuse. These injuries are most common in infants under one year old, but the same injuries can be seen in children as old as age 4 or 5 years.

How does it happen?

Everyone knows that babies cry, however medical research has shown that there is a time during an infant’s first few weeks that crying becomes more intense, prolonged, and at times very difficult to soothe. This is recognized as a normal phase of infant development. Although normal, this inconsolable crying can become extremely challenging for parents. Often frustrated parents or other persons responsible for a child’s care feel that shaking a baby is a harmless way to make a child stop crying. Professionals now feel that crying leads to most early traumatic brain injury or Shaken Baby Syndrome. About 25 percent of babies diagnosed with Shaken Baby Syndrome die.

What can you do to prevent a tragedy?

If you or someone else shakes a baby, either accidentally or on purpose, call 911 or take the child to the emergency room immediately. Bleeding inside the brain can be treated. Immediate medical attention may save your baby many future problems . . . and possibly your baby’s life.

Suggestions for Parents

  • Never throw or shake your baby
  • When you are frustrated, take time to calm yourself first
  • Take a few slow, deep breaths
  • Sit down, close your eyes and count to 20
  • Check out the Parent Cheat Sheets to learn more about calming baby
  • Take your baby for a stroller ride
  • Place your baby in a crib and leave the room for a few minutes
  • Play music or sing to your baby
  • Ask a friend to stay with your baby for a while
  • Make sure your baby is fed, burped and dry
  • Gently rock or walk your baby
  • Check for discomfort, diaper rash, teething or fever
  • Call the doctor if you think your baby is sick


National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome
The Shaken Baby Alliance
The Happiest Baby
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Kids Health – Abusive Head Trauma (Shaken Baby Syndrome)

The Parenting PATH
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