Shaken Baby Syndrome: Is This Accidental Or Intentional?

By in Health & Safety, Parenting on 18 December 2008

It all started with your baby’s natural phenomenon of having periods of inconsolable crying. You did everything you can; and you employed all the ways you know to calm the baby. Yet, the baby was still crying, and this time louder for everyone to hear. Frustrated, angry and losing control, you started shaking the baby, desperate to silence him. And you are right, he did stop crying. But after a few minutes, he became unconscious, and started to have seizures. What must have caused the sudden change in your baby’s condition?

Not many parents and caregivers realize that as little as 5 seconds of violently shaking the baby can cause a severe form of irreversible head injury. This is known as the Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), Whiplash-shaken infant, Shaken impact syndrome or Abusive head trauma. First described as a syndrome in 1974, Shaken baby syndrome can be lethal. It is a form of inflicted head trauma. Unlike other forms of head trauma, SBS results from injuries caused by someone vigorously shaking the child.

The anatomy of infants puts them at high risk for this type of injury. The baby’s neck muscles and ligaments are still weak and not well-developed enough to support his large and heavy head. Hence, whether it may be accidental or intentional, when someone forcefully shakes the baby, the baby’s head rotates about the neck uncontrollably. The soft brain of the baby bounces back and forth inside the skull, rupturing blood vessels and nerves throughout the brain. This can cause bruising and bleeding of the brain as well as tearing of brain tissue. After the shaking, the brain will swell, furthermore increasing pressure inside the skull.

In most severe cases, babies become unconscious, in seizure or in shock. In less severe cases, a baby who has been shaken may experience vomiting, poor sucking/decreased appetite, altered consciousness, bulging or spongy forehead, irritability, difficulty breathing, unequal pupil size, blood pooling in the eyes and rigidity. Factors affecting the severity of the infant’s injury include the duration, frequency, and impact of the shaking.

Shaken Baby Syndrome statistics revealed that 50% of offenders are natural parents, 17% are the mother’s boyfriend, 17% are non-relatives, and 6% are step parents. Though shocking but true, most perpetrators are the parents themselves. Thus, no wonder many cases of SBS are misdiagnosed for other medical causes because parents and caregivers, out of fear don’t often give the history that the baby had been shaken. .

In the United States, about 1,200 cases of SBS occur each year. Out of 4 babies with SBS, 1 dies. Children who survive may have cerebral palsy, severe mental retardation, hearing loss, blindness, developmental delays, and seizures. As these surviving victims of SBS get older, they may require special educational services and continued rehabilitation and therapy.

Shaken baby Syndrome is 100% preventable. Many times the offender did not intend to harm the baby. Although it may be unintentional for a parent to shake the baby out of anger and frustration, it is still a form of child abuse with devastating effects.
An effective way to prevent this incident from happening is NOT TO TOUCH YOUR BABY WHEN YOU ARE ANGRY OR UPSET. Violent shaking is NEVER an appropriate way to express frustration. It is better for you to walk away and calm yourself first, then get back to your baby and comfort him. In this way, your escalating anger is put off and your patience is stretched out. After all, no parent desires to hurt, or worse- take the life of her very own bundle of joy.

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