The Reality of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Preventing child abuse is a cause that Children's Hospital Colorado supports all year long, but we're giving extra attention to the topic during the month of April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month. To mark the beginning of this important month, Children's held a special lighting ceremony. Because the color blue symbolizes child abuse prevention, you will see blue lights and ribbons lining the hospital entrance during the entire month of April. In addition, we're taking the time to give you the low-down on preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome, one of the most common forms of child abuse.

Check out photos from our lighting ceremony.

Crying happens

People say that caring for a child is the most rewarding – and perhaps the hardest – job you’ll ever have. The fact is, all babies cry, and as a parent or caregiver you only have a certain amount of energy and patience. It's common to feel overwhelmed, helpless and possibly even angry by the constant demands of a baby.

No one likes to think about a child being hurt by an adult caregiver, but it does happen. Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is one of the leading causes of trauma death to Colorado children under the age of two. Educating parents and caregivers about the dangers of shaking a baby and providing alternatives for managing frustration is key to prevention.

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is the diagnosis given to the many serious, and sometimes fatal, injuries and permanent disabilities that can occur when an infant or young child is violently shaken. Not only is it a serious type of head injury, it is a serious form of child abuse. 

So why does SBS occur? The baby's brain is very fragile. Babies' neck muscles are not strong, therefore when a baby is shaken, his head flops back and forth, causing the brain to hit the inside of the skull. This causes the blood vessels to tear and blood to collect inside the baby's skull, causing irreparable damage to the brain.

SBS occurs most frequently in infants younger than six months old, but children as old as three can receive severe injuries from shaking. In America last year, more than 1,200 children were treated for SBS. Of these tiny victims, 20% died as a result of their injuries; the rest may have lifelong complications. The good news is SBS is 100% preventable. Learn how to prevent SBS.

All across Colorado, people have given their word to never shake a baby. Join the fight against shaken baby syndrome and give your word today.

Ask the hard questions and create teachable moments

There’s no denying that SBS is a sensitive, difficult and touchy subject – but it’s one that cannot be avoided. Challenge yourself to have the hard conversations with everyone who cares for your baby, and create teachable moments with your spouse/significant other, relatives, friends and babysitters. For example, when a sitter comes to your home for the evening, sit down and discuss what he or she would do if the baby won’t stop crying. Try to relate and empathize about how frustrating it can be, and encourage him to call you any time.

Here are other tips for parents (also great to share with caregivers) for when a baby just won’t stop crying:

  • Check physical needs first: Is the baby hungry? Thirsty? Need to be burped? Too hot or too cold? Diaper dirty?
  • Check for signs of illness or fever. If you think the baby may be sick, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Rock the baby, hold the baby close, or walk with the baby.
  • Sing or talk to the baby in a soothing voice.
  • Gently rub or stroke the baby's back, chest or tummy.
  • Offer a pacifier, or try to distract the baby with a rattle or toy.
  • Swaddle the baby with a soft blanket.
  • Turn on some music or noise like a vacuum cleaner or clothes dryer.
  • Take the baby for a ride in a stroller or in a car seat in the car.

If nothing seems to work, it is okay to leave the baby in a safe place (like a crib) and take time to calm down. Leave the room; shut the door; and take a few deep breaths. Call a friend, neighbor, family member or your healthcare provider and ask for help if you need it.

Get more prevention ideas from Kohl's Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) Prevention Campaign.