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Shaken Baby Syndrome is 100% Preventable

Learn More about This Serious Brain Injury

Editor's note: Two BabyFit members NICKITA and MOM2AMIRACLE started a nonprofit to help raise awareness about Shaken Baby Syndrome. To honor Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, they shared this article with BabyFit. For more information on Shaken Baby Syndrome, visit the organization's website.

What is SBS?

SBS is a serious brain injury that occurs when a child is shaken, usually to stop him or her from crying. (Learn ways to stop a baby from crying.) It is considered a serious form of child abuse. Shaken Baby Syndrome, or SBS, refers to the group of injuries most commonly found in babies or young children who have been shaken. Subdural hematomas (bleeding on the brain) and retinal hemorrhages (bleeding behind the eyes) are the two main factors for determining whether or not a child is suffering from SBS. In more severe cases, rib fractures or long-bone arm fractures may also be found.

With very severe cases, shaking is sometimes accompanied by throwing the infant onto a hard surface. This is called Shaken Impact Syndrome, and it is indicated by skull fractures in addition to other damage. Facial bruising or bruising on other "grip-point" parts of the body is not very common with SBS/SIS but may also occur depending on the severity and duration of the shaking.

SBS injuries occur when a baby or young child is grabbed around his or her arms or trunk and shaken violently. The head moves back and forth in a whiplike motion, which causes the baby's brain to bounce back and forth in its skull, leading to irreversible brain damage. Injuries may not be externally apparent but most often cause permanent damage or death.
  • An estimated 1,400-1,600 babies are shaken each year in the United States.
  • A recent study shows that for every case of diagnosed SBS, an additional 150 unreported cases may occur.
  • One in four shaken babies die from their injuries within a few hours to a few days of the shaking.
  • SBS can occur in newborns on up to children 5 years of age, but is most common in infants less than a year old. The average age is 4-6 months.
  • Among survivors, approximately 60% either die from their injuries at a later time or suffer various life-long disabilities.
  • Only 15% of shaken babies escape serious damage.
  • Most perpetrators who shake a baby are males (65-80%), usually the father, stepfather, or the mother's boyfriend. Often these are young men in their 20s who have no history of prior violence.
  • Male babies are more likely to be shaken than females.
  • Twins and multiples are more likely to be shaken than single babies.
  • Premature infants are more likely to be shaken than full-term babies.
  • The No. 1 reason people shake babies is to stop the child from crying. SBS often occurs when a parent or caregiver becomes frustrated, loses control, and shakes the baby violently.
  • The long-term effects of shaking a baby vary widely from case to case, but common disabilities and disorders among survivors can include: seizure disorder, cerebral palsy, loss of motor control, blindness, deafness, vegetative state, paralysis on one or both sides, behavioral problems, learning disorders, speech disorders, or abnormally high or low muscle tone.
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