Shaken Baby Syndrome, what it is and why it is dangerous

Who I am
Catherine Le Nevez
@catherinelenevez
Author and references

Contents

  • 1 What is Shaken Baby Syndrome
  • 2 Causes of babies crying
  • 3 Who shakes the children
  • 4 Risk Factors for Shaken Baby Syndrome
  • 5 Risks of Shaken Baby Syndrome
  • 6 Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome
  • 7 Consequences of Shaken Baby Syndrome 
  • 8 How Shaken Baby Syndrome is diagnosed
  • 9 How to prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome
  • 10 Miscellaneous Activities and Shaken Baby Syndrome

Baby crying isn't always easy to bear. There is no parent on earth who doesn't get upset at least a little when he's holding a screaming, inconsolable bundle in his arms. Not being able to calm our children makes us feel a terrible sense of helplessness and can happen to panic and despair. In these cases, sometimes something happens that should never, ever happen: shake the baby hard. It is an impulsive gesture, dictated by discouragement, but very dangerous. What you risk is Shaken Baby Syndrome. Today we will explain to you what it is to avoid that you can run into this error. 



What is Shaken Baby Syndrome

Literally it means "shaken baby syndrome". It indicates the gesture of violently shaking a very young child back and forth, causing oscillations and rotations of the head that can have serious consequences. Shaken Baby Syndrome is considered a full-fledged abuse. Keep this very strong fact in mind: in industrialized countries it is the most common cause of child death from maltreatment. 

Generally it is the youngest (less than one year old) who are affected by Shaken Baby Syndrome and the explanation is simple. In most cases they are shaken by crying, long, desperate and unstoppable and with various causes. No studies have found that most shaken babies cry an average of one and a half to three hours a day. And a parent who doesn't know what to do, unfortunately sometimes ends up exasperating, even if this is not an excuse.



Causes of newborn crying

Babies cry, there is nothing to be done. Of course, there are those who do it more and those only in particular situations. But they cry and it should be so. Infants have no other way of communicating that they are sleepy or hungry, that they feel hot or cold, that their nappies are wet or dirty. They can't tell us any other way than with tears. 

Babies cry because they want physical contact with mum or dad, after having spent 9 months safely in the baby bump. There are parents who let them do it, according to the (somewhat "cruel") principle that "sooner or later he will stop". Fatigue also makes them cry, perhaps after an intense day of walks in the park and new stimuli received. Or they have colic, stomach pains that make them scream a lot, especially in the evening hours. 

In short, crying is never a whim. But do you think that at two months your son knows what a mischief is? Let's always remember this when we see them despair.  

Who shakes the children

In addition to parents, all those who take care of them are at risk of shaking the little ones: grandparents, babysitters, nursery school teachers etc. 

Risk Factors for Shaken Baby Syndrome

It has been seen that in some cases there are factors that predispose to react to the crying of the newborn by shaking him vigorously in an attempt to calm him: 

  • Young age of parents.
  • Abuse of substances such as alcohol and drugs. 
  • Previous trauma. 
  • Family conflicts. 
  • Economic problems. 
  • Social desease. 
  • Low level of education. 

Risks of Shaken Baby Syndrome

The damage that Shaken Baby Syndrome can cause is very serious. To understand them better, try to imagine a little one weighing 7-8 kilos held by the chest, legs or arms and strongly shaken by a much bigger and more powerful mom or dad compared to him. A defenseless creature in the hands of a "giant". The disproportion is evident, even in terms of strength. 



A newborn is not yet in control of the head (it is larger than the rest of the body) and the neck muscles still do not hold it well. That's why it hangs on one side and must always be supported with care and delicacy. The shaking then causes the head to swing dangerously. The cranial bones among other things are not yet well welded. Sudden movements such as when a baby is shaken can cause the brain to move inside the skull, causing serious problems. For example, blood vessels can rupture, resulting in brain hemorrhage.

For Shaken Baby Syndrome to occur, the baby does not need to be shaken for very long: even a few seconds is enough to cause major injuries. According to some American studies, about a quarter of children with Shaken Baby Syndrome die a few days or weeks after suffering the violence. In the 3/4 that survive, 75% suffer permanent damage.

Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Shaken baby syndrome can give different signals depending on the degree of shaking and the degree of injury that has occurred in the brain: 

  • Breathing difficulty. 
  • Irritability.
  • He retched. 
  • Lack of appetite. 
  • Alterations in the level of consciousness. 
  • Bruises and bruises. 
  • Cranial swellings. 
  • Fractures. 
  • Lethargy (tendency to sleep a lot). 
  • Wailing crying or crying fits. 
  • Convulsions.
  • Absence of smiles or vocalizations. 
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia).
  • Decreased muscle tone. 
  • Poor sucking and swallowing. 
  • Anterior rounded or pulsating fontanel. 
  • Rigidity. 

Consequences of Shaken Baby Syndrome 

The damages can be:


  • cerebral palsy;
  • subdural hemorrhage;
  • retinal hemorrhage;
  • visual or auditory disturbances;
  • epilepsy;
  • neurological damage;
  • neck or spine injuries;
  • brain edema (swelling of the brain);
  • psychomotor and mental retardation;
  • Death.

Others can show up in childhood or adolescence:


  • depressive disorders;
  • learning difficulties;
  • speech disorders;
  • violent and aggressive behavior;
  • use of alcohol and drugs.

How is Shaken Baby Syndrome diagnosed

When taken individually, the symptoms are rather nonspecific. That is, they could indicate many different pathologies. It is therefore necessary for the doctor to go a bit for exclusion, if the parents do not directly mention that they have shaken their child. We remind you that it is a mistreatment and, as such, it could be hidden by those who perpetrated it. 

Three symptoms in particular, however, suggest Shaken Baby Syndrome: encephalopathy, subdural haemorrhage and retinal haemorrhage. In this case, the white coats will have little doubt as to what happened. Among the radiological procedures used to make a precise diagnosis are x-rays, CT scans and magnetic resonance. 

How to prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome

Prevention of Shaken Baby Syndrome is done in only one way: by avoiding shaking the babies. Sounds trivial, right? Yet it is not. The real problem is learning to understand and manage the crying of newborns which, as we have seen, is the basis of these sudden violent "shots" by those who care for them. 

When you are at the first experience, everything seems more difficult. Especially at the beginning it is not easy to understand why the baby is crying. You have to give yourself some time and get help from those who know best. Calling your midwife, for example, can be useful because she will be able to indicate some signs that should not be underestimated. Did you know, for example, that before bursting into tears of hunger, a newborn sends precise messages? He begins to writhe, puts his little hands in his mouth and starts vocalizing. However, if you do not indulge him, he will start crying bitterly. As well as anything else, whether it's a diaper to change or a very urgent nap.

It is also important to recognize your limitations. Do not feel "wonder woman" at all costs. If your child has been desperate for two hours and you realize that you can't take it anymore, pass him on to his dad or grandmother, change room, leave the house for a quarter of an hour, breathe deeply and then take him back in your arms. In this way you have averted the danger of incurring some gesture that you would surely regret. 

More info on Understanding the cry of newborns is possible: this is what tears tell us

Various activities and Shaken Baby Syndrome

If after reading our post you have been a little alarmed, we want to reassure you: not all types of shaking cause Shaken Baby Syndrome. However, it is right to remember that you are dealing with a newborn, not with a puppet or a soft toy: always "handle" newborns with extreme care. 

Some activities are not the cause of Shaken Baby Syndrome: 

  • Game of the "horse" on the legs.
  • Ride a bike with the child in the seat.
  • Jogging with the baby in a pouch or sling.
  • Abrupt braking in the car. 
  • Accidental falls (for example, from the bed or changing table. They can cause trauma, but not like those from shaking).
  • Airplane game, that is to say to lift the child up and then make him "glide" down.
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