It's unthinkable that someone could get so angry at an innocent baby to shake her enough to cause injury. Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is also known as abusive head trauma (AHT) and is a result of a child being violently shaken or slammed against a hard surface. Parents and caregivers either momentarily let their frustrations overtake them or they are purposely abusive people. According to the Shaken Baby Syndrome website sponsored by the Epilepsy Association of Central Florida, 1 in 4 victims of SBS will die and the other 3 will need medical care, some for serious injuries.
SBS Triggers and Symptoms
One of the most common reasons people give for reacting this way is that the baby keeps crying. Since new babies aren't capable of communicating verbally, if they're hungry, in pain or ill, they will most likely let those around them know by crying. Unfortunately, if the baby continues to cry after their needs are apparently met, some parents take this as a personal insult or as an indication that the child is not behaving.
It isn't always inexperienced parents who hurt their children. There can be a number of personal reasons that a parent or caregiver reacts in a violent way including job and relationship stress. Whatever the reason, shaking the baby rarely stops them crying unless it has been violent enough to injure them into silence.
Some symptoms of SBS to watch for include an inability to lift the head, seizures, difficulty breathing, difficulty in focusing eyes or following movements with the eyes, lethargy and extreme irritability. In the most extreme cases, the child will become unconscious and suffer possible fatal central nervous system problems. It should be noted that this syndrome isn't limited to babies. Older children can be victims of this type of abuse as well and suffer severe injuries.
Regular play isn't usually a cause for injury. The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome (NCSBS) released this statement regarding the subject:
"Activities involving an infant or a child such as tossing in the air, bouncing on the knee, placing a child in an infant swing or jogging with them in a back pack, do not cause the brain, bone, and eye injuries characteristic of shaken baby syndrome."
Since the majority of cases of SBS involve caregivers losing control of their emotions, one of the best ways of preventing it is to find better ways of coping with the frustration at the baby for crying. If the baby is crying after you've taken care of the basic needs such as feeding, changing the diaper, etc. and you find yourself becoming more frustrated, try to remember to breathe slowly and stay calm. Changing surroundings by taking the child out for a walk in the stroller may help you both calm down or try to find a caregiver you trust to help you get away for a while.
You may have to go to your pediatrician to make sure your baby doesn't have an illness such as an infection causing the prolonged crying. If you aren't able to control your anger, then you may have a more serious problem yourself and should seek help immediately. If you're a concerned friend or relative who suspects abuse, please call law enforcement or child protective services, especially if the abusers see nothing wrong with their behavior. The child may need immediate medical attention to prevent serious injury.
National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Accessed October 2010.
Shaken Baby Syndrome. Epilepsy Association of Central Florida, 2003-2008.