Shaken Baby Syndrome

Shaken Baby Syndrome: What Is It?

When the baby is shaken violently and forcefully, the infant can suffer from shaken baby syndrome. Other names include shaken impact syndrome, inflicted head injury, abusive head trauma and whiplash shake syndrome. It is a type of child abuse and has dangerous side effects, including brain damage. Just five seconds can cause this trauma.

A baby’s brain is soft and the muscles in the neck are weak, along with fragile blood vessels. When a baby is shaken, the brain will hit the sides of the skill and this can cause bleeding or bruising of the brain and make it swell. The neck, spine and eyes can also be damaged, as well as other bones broken.

This is more common when children are two-years-old or younger but it can occur in those up to the age of five. When babies or newborns fall down the stairs or off the bed, it can cause shaken baby syndrome but this is very rare. It will not happen when the baby is tossed in the air playfully or bounced on the lap. This is deliberate and a form of abuse.

It is important to call 911 if you believe that a baby is suffering from shaken baby syndrome. This is a life threatening condition and needs urgent medical care.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Symptoms

There will not always be other signs of abuse but a doctor may take an x-ray to see if there are other trauma signs. This will include any bleeding behind the eyes or fractures in the ribs.

A baby who is a victim of this abuse may show the following symptoms:

  • Body tremors
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Discolored skin
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Coma
  • Vision loss

Shaken Baby Syndrome Diagnosis

When diagnosing this syndrome, a doctor will check for the follow three conditions:

  • A bleed on the brain (subdural hemorrhage)
  • Swelling of the brain (encephalopathy)
  • Bleeding in the retina – part of the eye (retinal hemorrhage)

Your doctor will need to perform a series of tests to check for these signs, including:

  • A CT (computed tomography) scan that creates an image in cross-sections of the brain
  • An MRI scan, which uses radio waves to see the brain image
  • Skeletal survey to check for fractures in the skull, spine and ribs with an x-ray
  • Ophthalmological exam to check for any eye injuries or bleeding behind the retina

There are medical conditions that have symptoms that mimic shaken baby syndrome. Some of these are genetic, like osteogenesis imperfecta, where the bones will break very easily, and some are bleeding disorders. Your doctor will run tests to make sure these are not the cause of the symptoms before making an official diagnoses.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Treatment

911 must be called immediately when shaken baby syndrome is suspected. After being shaken, some children or babies may stop breathing. CPR will need to be used to keep your baby breathing while waiting for the ambulance.

Here are the steps of CPR according to the National Institutes of Health:

  1. Place your baby gently onto her back. Use two people if there is a suspected spinal injury to avoid twisting the neck and head.
  2. Place two fingers on the breastbone – in the middle and just below the nipples. Place the other hand on the forehead to ensure the head remains tilted backwards. Where there is a suspected spinal injury, place the hand on the jaw and pull it forward instead to avoid the mouth closing.
  3. Perform chest compressions by pressing down about halfway into the checks. Do 30 compressions without a pause, fast and hard.
  4. Give rescue breaths after checking for signs of breathing. If there are no signs, cover the nose and mouth with your mouth, ensuring the airway is open, and breathe in twice for one second each. You should see that the chest rises.
  5. Continue this cycle until your baby is breathing or the medical help arrives.

Another side effect of shaking is vomit. To prevent the baby from choking, roll her gently on the side. Do the whole body at the same time to help prevent the risk of damaging – or further damaging – the spine. Do not give your baby water or food or pick her up.

No treatment is available for shaken baby syndrome. There are times that surgery will be needed for treating severe brain bleeds, which involves placing a thin tube (a shunt) into the brain to drain it of the excess fluid and blood. If there is blood behind the eye, they may need surgery to correct or it can affect the vision permanently.

The Future for Those Suffering Shaken Baby Syndrome

Within seconds, the brain damage can be irreversible. Some of the complications associated with this syndrome are:

  • Permanent partial or total loss of vision
  • Seizure disorders
  • Loss of hearing
  • Learning difficulties and delays
  • Cerebral palsy, which leads to problems with speech and muscle coordination

The death rate, according to Mayo Clinic, is 50%.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention

This is completely preventable. Never shake your baby to avoid harming her. When angry or shouting at someone else, avoid holding your baby to prevent accidentally shaking her. Place her in her crib or cot if you find that you are losing control and contact someone that you trust for support. There is also the Boys Town National Hotline (1-800-448-3000) and other counselors or crisis hotlines for guidance and support.

Make sure your family and caregivers understand all the risks of shaken baby syndrome. If you suspect that there is a child suffering from abuse, the best thing you can do is alert the right people. Contact Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline on 1-800-4-A-CHILD or the police.