Shaken Baby Syndrome: Symptoms & Facts

Instructor: Quentin Shires

Quentin has taught psychology and other social science classes at the university level and is considered a doctoral colleague at Capella University.

Learn about the symptoms of shaken baby syndrome as well as some interesting facts. Then, take a quiz to see if you can identify the main concepts of this concerning topic.

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a form of child abuse in which a parent or caregiver violently shakes a baby. Sadly, up to 3,000 children fall victim to SBS in the United States each year. The shaking motion of SBS can destroy a baby's brain cells and stop oxygen from getting to their brain, resulting in permanent brain damage and even death.

Up to 3,000 children suffer from SBS each year in the US.
newborn baby

Why are Babies Shaken?

SBS typically occurs when a frustrated parent or childcare provider is stressed due to the continuation of a baby's inconsolable crying. They are often at their wit's end at these moments and don't know what else to do to get the baby to stop crying. Unfortunately, they often release their frustrations on the child by violently shaking him or her.

Babies can cry inconsolably as a part of their development.
Baby Crying

Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome

In order to identify SBS, there are many symptoms to be aware of. Keep in mind that babies between two and four months of age are at the greatest risk of injury from shaking. The injuries are typically related to a whiplash-type motion that can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Bleeding in the brain and eyes
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Blindness
  • Death

Horrifying Facts About SBS

SBS is horrific and dangerous; it can take only five seconds for a baby to sustain injuries when being shaken. Unfortunately, many of the injuries sustained by infants cannot be seen with the naked eye. The estimated rates of mortality for SBS are suspected to be anywhere between 15 and 38 percent, with hospitals claiming that half of all child-abuse related deaths are the result of babies being shaken.

For the babies that suffer injuries, they are most likely permanent and include blindness, motor skill impairments, cerebral palsy, hearing loss and learning disabilities.

Risk Factors for Shaken Baby Syndrome

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain individuals are considered to be more likely to shake babies during stressful times, especially if there is a history or presence of any of the following experiences:

Having Unrealistic Expectations of Child Development

It is important to understand that, from time to time, babies are going to cry inconsolably as they are developing both physically and emotionally. Becoming educated on the realities of child development can help us keep a realistic vision as to why our babies are crying and lessen the occurrence of SBS.

Having Unrealistic Expectations of Child Rearing

Like having unrealistic expectations of child development, we can also have unrealistic expectations of child rearing, which is the process of how we bring our children up. For example, if we watch television shows depicting the 'perfect' family with 'perfect' children, then have child rearing experiences that are completely different, this may be stressful and disappointing. Reading child rearing books or attending community classes that provide tips on how to raise and interact with children are great ways to gain a realistic viewpoint on child rearing.

Having Suffered Previous Abuse as a Child

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