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Never Shake A Baby

It only takes a few seconds to cause permanent damage by shaking a baby…
Shakenbaby f06 - never shake a baby

Many parents don’t know about the serious and potentially permanent damage that can occur if a baby is shaken. Some cases have resulted in permanent brain damage, paralysis and even death. In some of the more aggressive cases, people have gone to jail.

What Is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken Baby Syndrome is the name given to the serious injuries that result from severely shaking a baby or young child.

What Causes The Injuries During Shaking?

A baby has weak neck muscles and a large, heavy head in proportion to the rest of his (or her) body. Shaking causes the head to move back and forth, in a whiplash-like motion. This may cause swelling of the brain and tearing of blood vessels in the brain. There can also be bleeding at the backs of the eyes.

A common scenario is a baby being shaken first, then thrown against a crib or other hard surface, causing blunt impact injuries on top of the injuries from the shaking. Such an incident usually occurs when a baby is less than six months old, but older children also can be at risk.

What Are Symptoms Of The Injuries Caused During Shaking?

Warning signs of injuries suffered due to shaking are irritability, decreased appetite, poor sucking, vomiting, decreased level of consciousness, seizures or difficulty breathing. In many cases, the long-term consequences can be blindness, seizures, paralysis (damage to the spinal cord), brain damage, delay in normal development and even death.

Why Does Shaking Happen?

Many parents and caregivers don’t know how dangerous shaking can be to a baby. They don’t understand the importance of supporting and protecting a baby’s head.

Some people think shaking is less damaging, or more acceptable, than hitting. They are very wrong.

In many cases parents are very young and inexperienced, and they become easily frustrated and angry at their baby’s persistent crying.

If you shake your baby or suspect someone else has, seek medical help immediately by going to the local hospital emergency department. This could save your baby’s life.

Coping With Crying
If your baby is crying, respond to his needs first:

  • Feed and burp the baby.
  • Change the baby’s diaper.
  • Cuddle the baby.
  • Offer the baby a pacifier.
  • Take the baby for a walk or for a drive in the car.
  • Play soft music.
  • Gently massage the baby’s back.

If none of these measures stop the baby’s crying, and you feel like you may be losing control:

  • Place the baby in a safe place, preferably in his crib, and leave the room for a few minutes.
  • Call a friend or relative.
  • Ask someone to come over and relieve you for a short period of time.
  • Call your doctor for advice; there may be a medical reason why your child is crying.
  • Call a crisis line in your province (put the phone number in a place that is easy to find).
  • Make sure your baby’s other caregivers are aware of the dangers of shaking and how to properly support a baby’s head. BW

Marilyn Coupland, RN works with babies and parents in the Child and Family Clinic of British Columbia Childrens Hospital.

Published in March 2007

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