Babies have a very heavy head in proportion to the rest of their body. Shaking a young baby causes their head to flop back and forth as their neck is too weak to support it.
The brain inside a baby’s head is immature and easily damaged by the violent movement of the head. Blood vessels to the brain can be torn away causing bleeding and irreparable damage to the brain.
Effects of shaken baby syndrome
In some cases, death, eye damage and blindness or mental disability is the result. Learning difficulties can also be caused by SBS. Some victims will require lifelong medical care.
Causes of shaken baby syndrome
The main cause of this unfortunate event is frustration and anger.
A sleep deprived parent or inexperienced carer becomes frustrated and gives the baby a shake.
This is more ignorance than a desire to do harm. The best way to prevent this behaviour is educating parents, nannies, baby sitters or anyone who is likely to be caring for a young child.
Some adults are easily frustrated by a baby’s constant crying, especially at night. They perceive it as being unable to care properly for the baby and start to feel inadequate.
Frustration with the baby and also with themselves builds up until it results in physical action.
Parents and carers need to realize that all babies cry for periods during a day. This can be up to three hour or more. This is a natural thing that babies do and in no way reflects on the standard of care being given.
Shaken baby syndrome symptoms – what to look out for.
A baby effected by shaken baby syndrome may show one or more of the following symptoms. Always seek medical attention immediately.
- unable to suck or swallow normally
- lethargy or unresponsiveness
- signs of blood in the eyes
- a rigid stance
- swelling of forehead or head
- difficulty breathing
- dilated pupils
- spasms or seizures
How to prevent shaken baby syndrome
Understand that your baby will cry for periods of time, this is natural. Find ways to soothe your baby such as taking him for a walk in his stroller or for a ride in the car.
Try music, it doesn’t have to be nursery rhymes. Some babies love rock music, others have a taste for Mozart! Even continuous noise, like a vacuum cleaner, will do it for some babies.
Offer a pacifier, that’s what they were designed for. A massage can sometimes work wonders too.
If nothing works and you can feel your anger building, walk away. Call someone you can trust to take over and give yourself a break.
Never leave your baby in the care of someone you don’t know without checking they’re properly trained in child and infant care.
Most importantly always call your paediatrician if you’ve shaken your baby or if you suspect that this has happened to any baby. It’s better to be safe than sorry and there are medical procedures that can minimize any damage.