Shaken Baby Syndrome: what it is and how to recognize it

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is a severe form of predominantly intrafamilial physical abuse of children generally under 2 years of age. The child is shaken violently by the caregiver as a reaction to the child’s inconsolable crying.

The peak incidence of SBS occurs between 2 weeks and 6 months of age, the period of maximum intensity of infant crying. At that age, the child does not yet have control of the head because the neck muscles are weak, the head is heavy in relation to the body, and the brain, which is of a gelatinous consistency, moves inside the skull if shaken, and the bone structure is still fragile.

The consequences of shaking, even if it is only a few seconds long, can therefore be particularly ominous and can result in coma or death of the child in up to 1/4 of cases.

Can tossing my child in the air or rough play with him cause SBS?

SBS is a form of maltreatment that occurs when an infant or young child is violently shaken.
Shaking injuries are not caused by:

  • Have the baby hop on your lap (piggyback game)
  • Jolting or throwing your baby in the air
  • jogging or biking with your baby
  • falls from the sofa or another piece of furniture
  • Hard braking in cars or not slowing down before speed bumps or bollards

Although the activities listed above may be harmful to the child and are not recommended, they are not likely to cause shaking injuries.

Why is shaking a baby dangerous?

Violent shaking for even a few seconds has the potential to cause serious injury. Shaking children is always dangerous, particularly for those under one year of age who are most at risk of injury.

Factors contributing to the vulnerability of younger children include:

  • Infants’ heads are heavy and larger than the rest of the body
  • Infants have still weak neck muscles and hardly control their heads
  • infants have brains that are still delicate, developing and more vulnerable to insult
  • there is a significant difference in size and strength between the victim and the perpetrator

Possible signs and symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome

  • Lethargy/diminished muscle tone
  • Extreme irritability
  • Reduced appetite, poor nutrition or vomiting for no apparent reason
  • Occurrence of graze bruising on arms or chest
  • Absence of smiles or vocalizations
  • Poor sucking and swallowing
  • Rigidity or poor posture
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Reduced level of consciousness
  • Convulsions/Crisis
  • Head and forehead appear larger than normal (increase in head circumference disharmonious with weight and height)
  • The front fontanelle may appear convex (or pulsating)
  • Difficult head control
  • Difficulty/inability to lock eyes and follow movements
  • Different pupil size
  • Prolonged sleep
  • Frequent inconsolable crying
  • Moaning cry

The consequences of Shaken Baby Syndrome

  • Learning Disorders
  • Physical disabilities
  • Visual impairment or blindness
  • Hearing disabilities
  • Language disorders
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Epilepsy
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Psychomotor retardation and mental retardation
  • Death

The information on this page is not intended to replace the advice of a professional. If you suspect that a child has been shaken, seek medical attention immediately.

Share This