The shaken baby syndrome is a critical brain injury caused by severely and violently shaking a child. Imagine the following: You’re six weeks into the motherhood journey and in the mid-night. Your hormones are “boiling” with rage.
Breastfeeding is painful and your baby does not stop crying. With complete frustration, red face, and anger, you grab your little one and shake her without thinking.
About 50 percent of American adults do not understand the serious risk of the shaken baby syndrome. Vigorously shaking a newborn baby can cause brain damage or even death. Dr. Glade Curtis and Judith Schuler, the authors of “your baby’s first year”, said most baby-shaking takes less than 20 seconds but includes almost 40-50 vibrations. It is enough to do serious harm to your child’s brain.
When Does Shaken Baby Syndrome Occur?
Shaken baby syndrome occurs when a child or toddler is shaken violently and sometimes repeatedly (again and again) with or without hitting the head on something. The effects can be very serious, including lifelong injury and even death.
Shaken Baby Syndrome is a type of harassing head injury that can cause:
- Brain damage to the child.
- Permanent injuries such as blindness or stroke.
- Children under 1-year-old are at higher risk because they cry more often. However, older children can also be seriously injured if shaken violently. No child should swing at any age.
What can parents do to calm a crying baby?
Canadian Pediatric Association provides parents with information about colic and crying. The following tips can also help:
- Check if the crying of your baby is a sign that your baby needs something, For example, diaper changes, feeding, relief from extreme heat or cold, attention or fever.
- Stay with your baby. It does not spoil him. However, some children do not like going from person to person.
- Wrap or swaddle your baby.
- Put the lights off and keep the environment quiet. Stimulating too much can make him cry or make the situation worse.
- Light music, white noise, or mild relaxing noise can calm some children.
- Many can children calm down with movements, try walking with the baby on a sling or stroller. Rock or sway with the child in a smooth, rhythmic movement. Or try a car trip.
- Breast sucking can sometimes help the babies calm down and feel relaxed. This can be done by breastfeeding your baby or offering her a pacifier.
- Give a warm bath to your baby.
Other names for the shaken baby syndrome are abusive head injury, shaken impact syndrome, and whiplash shaken syndrome. The shaken baby syndrome can be defined as a type of child abuse that causes serious brain damage. It can occur even after shaking the baby for just five seconds.
Children have weak neck muscles and soft brains. They also have sensitive blood vessels. Shaking a child allows their brain to hit the wall of the skull over and over again. This effect can cause bruising, bleeding, and swelling of the brain. Other injuries can include broken bones, damage to the baby’s eyes, spine, and neck.
How Common Is Shaken Baby Syndrome?
The shaken baby syndrome is more common in children younger than 2 years old, but it can affect children up to 5 years old. Most Shaken Baby Syndrome cases occur in babies who are more likely to cry in infants, about 6-8 weeks old.
Fun interaction with a child such as jumping the baby on your lap or into the air does not cause injuries associated with the shaken baby syndrome. Instead, these injuries often occur when someone saves the child from frustration or anger.
In no case should you shake a child. Shaking a child is a serious and deliberate form of abuse. If you think your child or another child is a victim of the shaken baby syndrome, call 911 right away. This is a life-threatening condition that requires urgent medical attention.
What if my baby keeps crying?
If the crying of your baby continues after making sure that there is no specific problem, try, as much as possible, to stay calm and know how he feels. You are angry, frustrated, or upset, right? Take a moment to relax.
Some tips to calm you down:
- If you feel out of control, stop! Put the baby safely in the cradle, take time and leave the baby’s room until you feel comfortable.
- Breathe slowly and deeply.
- You can also take a shower.
- Talk to a friend, family member, neighbor or someone you trust and get support. Ask a valued person to look after your baby for a while so that you can have a longer rest.
- If you have felt you can harm your child, seek help: a family member, a neighbor, a local crisis line, a child protection agency, or police. Check the front pages of your local directory for emergency numbers near you.
It is an awesome idea to have a plan before you get angry. Keep a list of helpful numbers that can be clearly used for all caregivers.
What signs can indicate that a child is shaken?
Often there are no spots or bruises on the baby’s skin. Common signs are:
- Unusual sleepiness or excessive fussiness.
- Refusal to eat, malnutrition or vomiting for no apparent reason.
- The child stop smiling, making eye contact or babbling.
- Stiff body or seizures (legs and arms repeatedly stiff or jerky)
- The child’s body is immobile.
- Difficulty breathing or a change in her breathing pattern.
- The child’s eyes are blurred, become unfocused or retracted.
Shaken Baby Syndrome Symptoms
Symptoms of Shaken Baby syndrome include:
- Difficulty staying awake.
- Body tremors
- Shortness of breath
- Poor eating habit
- colorless skin
- epileptic seizures
If symptoms of shaken baby syndrome occur, call 911 or take your child to the closest emergency room. Such injuries are life-threatening and can cause permanent brain damage.
Shaken Baby Syndrome Causes
Shaken baby syndrome occurs when someone angrily shakes a baby or toddler. People can shake a baby with frustration or anger because usually, the baby doesn’t stop crying. Although shaking will eventually prevent the baby from crying, often because the shaking has harmed their brain.
Children’s neck muscles are weak and they often have trouble supporting their heads. When a child is shaken violently, his head moves uncontrollably. Violent movement, repeatedly throws the child’s brain into the skull, causing bruising, swelling and bleeding.
How is shaken baby syndrome diagnosed?
To make a diagnosis, the doctor usually looks for three conditions that indicate shaken baby syndrome.
- Encephalopathy or swelling of the brain.
- Subdural bleeding or brain bleeding.
- Bleeding in a part of the eye called retinal or Retina hemorrhage.
The doctor will order a series of tests to determine signs of brain damage and confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include:
- MRI image using powerful magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of the brain
- CT scan that produces clear sectional images of the brain
- Skeleton radiograph (skeletal X-ray) showing the fractures of the spine, ribs and skull.
- Ophthalmic Exam (Eye examination) that checks for eye damage and bleeding in the eyes.
Before confirming the shaken baby syndrome, the doctor will order a blood test to rule out other possible causes. This is because some shaken baby syndrome symptoms are very similar to those of other diseases. These include bleeding disorders and some genetic disorders such as osteogenesis imperfecta. The blood test will determine if another condition is causing the child’s symptoms.
Shaken Baby Syndrome Treatment
Call 911 immediately if you notice your child has a shaken baby syndrome. Some children stop breathing after shaking. In this case, CPR can keep the child to breathe until the personal doctor arrives.
The American Red Cross recommends the following steps to perform CPR:
- Carefully make the baby lie on her back. If you suspect a spinal injury, it is best for two people to move the baby slowly so that the head and neck are not twisted.
- Set your position. If your baby is below 1-year old, put two fingers on the center of the breastbone (one finger if your baby is over 1-year-old), put your other hand on the forehead of the baby so the head is tilted back a little. If a spinal injury is suspected, pull the jaw forward instead of tilting the head, and prevent the mouth from closing.
- Perform chest compressions. Press the sternum and push it into the center of the chest. Perform 30 chest compression counts while counting aloud. Compressions should be solid and fast.
- Give rescue breath. After the compression, check if your baby can breathe. If there are no signs of breathing, cover the baby’s mouth and nose well with your mouth. Make sure the airways are open and breathe twice. Make sure each breath lasts around 1 second to make the chest rise.
- Continue CPR. Continue the cycle of 30 compressions and 2 rescue breaths until help arrives. Pay attention to breathing.
In some cases, the child may vomit after shaking. Turn the baby to one side slowly to prevent choking. Be sure to roll the whole body at the same time. In the event of a spine injury, this rolling method reduces the risk of further damage to the spine. It is important not to raise the baby or give the baby food or water.
The shaken baby syndrome has no medication for now. Surgery may be needed, in severe cases, to treat the brain bleeding. And this may include shunt placement or a thin tube, to relieve pressure and drain excess blood or fluid. Blood in the eyes may also be removed by performing eye surgery.
Shaken Baby Syndrome Children’s Outlook
Irreversible damage to the brain from shaken baby syndrome can happen within seconds. Complications found in many children include:
- permanent loss of vision (partially or completely)
- Hearing stiffness
- Seizure disorders
- Developmental delays
- Mentally retarded
- Cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects muscle coordination and language.
Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention
The shaken baby syndrome can be prevented. You can avoid harming your baby’s brain by not angrily shaking them, no matter what. It is easy to be frustrated and boiled with rage when you can’t easily get your baby to stop crying or put them to sleep. However, you should accept that crying is a normal behavior in children, and shaking her is never the right answer.
It is important to find a way to subdue the stress if the baby is crying for a long time. If you think you have lost control, it may be helpful to seek help from a family member or friend. There are also many hospital programs that show you how to react when babies cry and how to deal with parental stress. These programs can also help you identify and prevent injuries associated with shaken baby Syndrome. Make sure your family members and health professionals are aware of the dangers of the shaken baby syndrome.
If you notice that a child has been abused by minors, do not ignore the problem. Call your local police or Child Aid Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD.