Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is a severe brain injury caused by shaking or handling an infant or child roughly. A hit to the head is unnecessary for the baby to suffer a brain injury, as some injuries occur when a brain is bounced back and forth within the skull. SBS can occur when a baby or child falls, is in a car accident, or is physically abused. Children recover from most bumps on the head without problems (concussion). Still, the effects of this brain injury can be temporary, permanent, or life-threatening.
SBS, or Abusive Head Trauma (AHT), is the leading cause of child maltreatment fatalities. Most of these injuries occur in a baby’s first year of life.
How does SBS look?
Symptoms depend on the type of head injury and how severe it is. Children with minor head injuries might not have any symptoms.
Other symptoms a baby or child can have after a head injury include the following:
- Acting fussy, very tired, or not like themselves.
- Swelling or bruising on the scalp.
- Loss of Consciousness.
A head injury that involves a broken skull or facial bone can also cause:
- Bruising around the eyes or behind the ear.
- Blood or clear fluid draining from the nose or ear.
Symptoms can start right after a head injury or a few hours or days later.
Who does this to a baby or child?
Shaken Baby Syndrome is most common in infants under one year of age. It often occurs when a baby’s demands, especially crying, trigger a frustrated parent or caregiver to shake or throw a child.
SBS is a form of child maltreatment. It is never okay to shake a baby or child.
Talking about caring for a baby safely to babysitters, relatives, and friends is important. Everyone needs to know that shaking a baby or child can be fatal.
All babies cry. Frustration with a baby’s crying is the #1 trigger for SBS.
Some babies cry inconsolably. No matter what you do, the baby doesn’t stop crying. If you feel like you might lose control, here are some suggestions to help calm yourself:
- Place your child safely in the crib, take a time-out and leave your child’s room for as long as it takes you to feel calm.
- Take slow and deep breaths.
- Take a shower.
- Talk to a friend, family member, neighbour, or anyone you trust, and get some support. Ask a trusted person to take care of your baby so that you can take a longer break.
Can head injuries be prevented in babies and young children?
Here are some safety tips to reduce your child’s chances of getting a head injury. Make sure that they:
- Cannot fall down stairs or out of windows. Use gates and guards to prevent this.
- Are never left alone where they could fall, for example, on a bed, change table, or in a highchair without the straps fastened.
- Sleep in a crib that they cannot climb out of.
- Always ride in a car seat that is the right type and size for them. Make sure that the seat is secured and set up correctly.
- Always wear a helmet if they are riding in a bicycle carrier or towed in a bicycle trailer
Never shake a baby. If you suspect someone has hurt your child, tell a doctor or nurse immediately.
Services related to this information:
- Contact your Public Health Nurse
- 811 HealthLine (Newfoundland & Labrador) – Call 811 or 1-888-709-2929 / TTY 1-888-709-3555
- 811 is free and confidential. 811 is available 24/7 and can provide support with mental health and addictions issues and more.
- Services formerly offered by the Provincial Mental Health Crisis Line are now offered by 811. Call 811 to speak with a registered nurse who is also a trained crisis intervener.
- Child Protection – To report child abuse call toll-free 1-833-552-2368 or contact your local police.