Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS)

National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome

sbs motion

Did you know that nearly four times everyday an infant is shaken and abused?

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a form of child abuse that occurs when an infant is violently shaken by a much larger person. It is the most devastating form of child abuse as 30 percent of all infants who are shaken die and upwards of 80 percent who survive suffer permanent life-long brain abnormalities. In fact, shaken baby syndrome is the most common form of child abuse seen in children under one years of age.

So now you are probably wondering, what does this have to do with me?
I would never shake my baby.

Would you believe that the number one reason a child is shaken is because a parent or caregiver becomes so frustrated with a baby's crying that they lose control and just shake them. Believe it! Research has shown that frustration with a child’s crying is the number one reason a person shakes a baby. This can be hard to understand, unless you have been in a situation where no matter what you tried to calm your crying infant, nothing worked.

As described more fully in another section on this website, all infants go through a stage in their development when they cry more than any other time in their lives. This period, which begins at about two weeks of age, peaks around two months and eventually levels off around four-five months, is referred to as the Period of PURPLE Crying This period can be one of the most frustrating times in your child’s development, mostly because many parents don’t know anything about it and consequentially it is the time when most infants are shaken and abused.

You might be wondering, “How could anyone do this to a baby?” and the answer is most people don’t mean for it to happen. Most people charged with shaking their baby have no previous history of violence. They are usually average people who in the heat of their frustration and anger lose control and shake their child.

Children are most susceptible to being injured during the first year of life because their neck muscles and brains have not developed enough to withstand the violence of being shaken. When shaken an infant's head moves back and forth with their chin coming in contact with their chest and the back of their head touching the upper back. As an infant is shaken their brain bounces around inside the skull causing severe bleeding and swelling. Their is also sheering and tearing of the retina inside the eye causing more bleeding and eventually leading to blindness in most cases of SBS.

bleeding of brain bleeding of eye

Many people ask what types of activities other than shaking can cause SBS. For example, one concerned grandparent asks, “My son was bouncing my grandson on his knee and his head was moving all around, is he going to get shaken baby syndrome,” the answer to these questions is usually always the same. Shaken Baby syndrome is caused by a violent and forceful shaking of a child. It is something that most anyone would recognize as extremely dangerous and potentially life threatening. Playful activities like bouncing a baby on a knee or whisking them through the air, while not recommended, are not going to cause SBS.

One concerned parent asks, “Will bouncing a baby on a knee cause SBS?”
The answer to these type of questions is no! SBS is caused by the violent and forceful
shaking of an infant. It is something that anyone would recognize as dangerous and life threatening.

So now you are probably wondering, “What does all this mean for me?” “It is obvious now that shaking a baby is dangerous and that almost anyone could become frustrated and shake a baby, so how do I make sure this never happens to my baby?” It is very important that you share the information contained in the Period of PURPLE Crying with everyone who cares for your baby. It is important for them to know that when your baby cries and even after they have tried everything they can think of to calm them and they still continue to cry, that this is completely normal. If they get frustrated they should set the baby in a safe place and call you to come and pick up the child. For more information about sharing this information with other caregivers please see the childcare section of this website.

It is important to always remember that all babies cry, some more than others, and it is okay to get frustrated. It is what you do with your frustration that is important. For tips to cope with your frustration and anger please click here. Never respond to your frustration with a crying or otherwise difficult baby by shaking them. This is the most dangerous thing you can do to your baby.