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Shaken Baby Syndrome (for parents)

Chapter 1

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS)

Table of Contents 

  1. About SBS
  2. Medical Info  
  3. Prevention of SBS    
  4. Legal Issues


Chapter 1: About SBS

Child Abuse

Every state has laws that define child abuse.  ALL adults with children in their care must abide by these laws. Child abuse acts are:

• Physical abuse

• Acts of cruelty (sexual molestation)

• Emotional abuse

As a child care provider, you have legal responsibility for that child.  If you fail to protect that child from abuse, you may be found guilty of child abuse.

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a serious form of child abuse.  It is a term used to describe injuries babies and very young children sustain from being violently shaken. Forceful shaking of an infant or young child by the arms, legs, chest or shoulders can result in brain damage leading to:

• Mental Retardation

• Speech Disabilities

• Learning Disabilities

• Paralysis

• Seizures

• Hearing Loss

• Death

Because a baby's head is so large and the neck muscles are weak, these areas are especially vulnerable to injury.

The infant skull:

• At birth skull joints are flexible, so that the infants' head can be compressed as it passes through the birth canal.

• Fontanels are soft areas where the bones of the cranium do not meet.

• The joints remain flexible to allow expansion until the cranial bones are fully formed, around age 2.

The space between the brain and skull allow for growth and development.  An infant’s skull is soft and pliable.  A baby’s brain and blood vessels are very fragile and easily damaged by whiplash motions like shaking, jerking and jolting.

When an infant is shaken, the violent movement causes the brain to bounce back and forth in the skull.   This causes a rupturing of blood vessels and nerves and tears the brain tissue.  The force of the brain striking the skull leads to further bleeding and bruising of the brain.  Later, swelling can cause even more damage to the brains delicate structures.

Other names for shaken baby syndrome are:

• Abusive head trauma

• Shaken brain trauma

• Pediatric traumatic brain injury

• Whiplash shaken infant syndrome

• Shaken impact syndrome


Physical abuse is the leading cause of serious head injury in infants.  Every year almost 50,000 children in the United States are forcefully shaken by their caretakers. 2,000 children die every year as a result of SBS.  More than 60% of these children are boys.

• Victims are usually 6-8 months old, but may be as old as 5 years or only a few days old.

• Men in their early 20's who are the baby's father or the mother's boyfriend are more likely to shake a child vs. a woman.

• Women who inflict SBS are more likely to be babysitters or child care providers than the baby's mother.

There is a high rate of morbidity (the condition of being diseased) and mortality (death) among infant victims of SBS.

• Mortality rates range from 15-38%

• 60% of those infants who were in a coma when initially examined died or had profound mental retardation, spastic quadriplegia, or severe motor dysfunction.