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Gentle Hands and a Loving Touch - Prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Unfortunately child abuse can occur in many forms to children of any age. Shaken Baby Syndrome is one such form of abuse that in recent years has been forefront in the media as it typically affects infants and toddlers, but can occur in children up to age 4. This was originally termed a syndrome in 1974 and classified as lethal.

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS)?

Shaken Baby Syndrome occurs when head trauma has been inflicted on a young child. It typically occurs as a result of vigorously shaking an infant. It can occur from as little as five seconds of shaking, and results when both acceleration (from shaking) and deceleration (from the head hitting something) occurs. Injuries can even occur from hitting soft objects such as mattresses or pillows similar to whiplash injuries that result from car accidents. The result is a bruising and bleeding of the brain which causes swelling to the brain with major pressure, compressed blood vessels and injury.


  • 65-90% of all perpetrators are males, and typically either the baby's father or the mother's boyfriend.

  • One in four shaken babies die.

  • 15% of children's deaths are due to battering or shaking, and an additional 15% are suspected shaken baby deaths.

  • Males comprise more than 60% of shaken baby victims.

  • SBS is 100% preventable.

Why it occurs?

SBS often occurs as a result of colic. Colic is defined as crying that lasts more than three hours a day for longer than three weeks. Approximately 20-30% of all babies have colic. A continuously crying baby is enough to rattle the most patient parent, but the key is to know what steps to take to prevent a situation from spiraling out of control.


Some of the recognizable symptoms of SBS include according to About Shaken Baby (

  • Head turned to one side
  • Unable to lift or turn head
  • Pinpointed, dilated, or unequal size pupils
  • Blood pooling in the eyes
  • Pupils unresponsive to light
  • Bulging or spongy forehead
  • No smiling or vocalization
  • Poor sucking or swallowing
  • Rigidity
  • Semi-consciousness, lethargy, or decreased muscle tone
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures or spasms
  • Swollen head, which may appear


In milder cases most babies look normal after a shaking incident but may eventually develop one or more of the following symptoms. Often the effects go unrecognized for years and are not noticed until learning disabilities or behavioral disorders are uncovered in school.

  • Partial or total blindness.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Seizures.
  • Developmental delays.
  • Impaired intellect.
  • Speech and learning difficulties.
  • Memory and attention difficulties.
  • Mental retardation.
  • Paralysis.

How to avoid it

Discuss SBS causes, prevention and dangers with everyone who cares for your child.

Adults should find healthy ways to alleviate stress during serious crying jags. Dr. Karp suggests using the 5 S's to calm a baby:

  1. Shushing - using white noise or rhythmic sounds that sound like womb noise, like dryers, a white noise CD, vacuum cleaners or hairdryers.

  2. Side positioning - placing babies on their left sides while holding them, then putting the sleeping baby down on their back to sleep in a crib or bassinet.

  3. Sucking - allowing the baby to nurse/bottle feed, suck on a finger or pacifier.

  4. Swaddling - wrap the baby snugly in a blanket.

  5. Swinging - rock in a chair, an infant swing, or take a car ride.

After making sure that all basic needs are met (feeding, changing and burping), others ways to calm a baby include:

  • Holding the baby and gently massage him/her. Check out StorkNet's interview with Diana Moore, founder of the Loving Touch Foundation, teaching baby massage
  • Softly singing.
  • Dimming lights and lowering volume.
  • Hold the baby and breathe calmly and deeply.

Some steps that adults can take to calm themselves are:

  • Slowly counting to 10.
  • Call a friend or relative to relieve you for a much needed break.
  • Place the baby in his/her crib, close the door and check on the baby every ten minutes.
  • Check with the doctor to make sure there's no medical reason for his/her discomfort.

Shaken Baby Syndrome is both serious and avoidable. Parents can make sure their children are protected through educating themselves and others who will be caring for them. Parents should be prepared to remove themselves from a situation that could escalate, or have someone else step in to intervene. National Child Abuse Prevention month is an excellent time to put plans in place to protect children from harm's way and remember that children should be handled with a gentle hand and a soft touch.

Resources:    » National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome -
   » Abusive Head Trauma -
   » About Shaken Baby -

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