Shaken Baby Syndrome

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is the name given to the collection of signs and symptoms resulting from roughly shaking an infant, with or without impact to the head.  It happens when someone shakes a baby or hits the baby against something hard.

Approximately 25 per cent of babies who have been shaken die and as many as 80 per cent have permanent brain damage. Even babies who don’t have any immediate obvious sign of injury can develop problems. Sometimes it is not until the child begins school and has learning difficulties that the problem is discovered.

Children with Abusive Head Trauma can present with a range of symptoms.

Non-specific symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Poor Feeding
  • Vomiting
  • Poor Sucking and Swallowing
  • Lack of Smiling or Vocalizing
  • Poor Muscle Tone
  • Dilated/Unequal Pupil Size

Severe symptoms:

  • Spongy Forehead
  • Rigidity
  • Seizures
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Death

Shaken Baby Syndrome is most common in infants less than one year of age and occurs when a baby’s demands, especially crying, become the trigger for a frustrated parent or caregiver to shake or throw a child.

This is a form of child abuse. It is never okay to shake a baby or child.

How to protect baby:

  • If your baby’s crying is frustrating you, take a break. Gently place your baby in a safe place and leave the room. Take 10 to 15 minutes to give yourself a chance to calm down. It is more important to calm yourself before you try to calm your baby.
  • Talk to others who care for your baby, such as babysitters, relatives, and friends, about how to safely care for your baby. It is important that everyone is aware that shaking a baby can be fatal.
  • Always support baby’s fragile head and neck when holding or moving baby.
  • Never toss a baby or young child in the air.
  • Learn ways to cope with a baby’s crying.

If your baby continues to cry after you have made sure that there’s no specific problem, try to stay calm and be aware of how you feel.

If you feel like you might lose control, below 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 else you trust, and get some support. Ask a trusted person to take care of your baby for so you can take a longer break.

If you ever feel you may hurt your baby, call for help such as a family member, neighbour, a local crisis line: 709-737-4668 or toll free 1-877-737-4668, child protection: 709-729-4612, or the police: 911.

Services related to this information:

  • Public Health Nursing offices, Eastern Health
  • 811 HealthLine (Newfoundland & Labrador) – Call 811 or 1-888-709-2929 / TTY 1-888-709-3555
  • Mental Health Crisis Line – 709-737-4668 / 1-888-737-4668
    A free, confidential service for individuals, family and friends. The crisis line is province-wide, 24 hours a day.



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Last updated: 2021-07-21