Though it’s hard to imagine, there are people in the world who purposely set out to hurt an innocent baby or child. Especially when you’re cuddling your own newborn baby, it’s frightening to think that anyone would ever intentionally hurt such a small creature. However, these people exist, and one of the results is a condition called shaken baby syndrome. Aptly named, shaken baby syndrome occurs when an adult violently shakes a baby or toddler out of frustration or anger. As a result, the baby’s brain hits the sides of the skull and brain damage, paralysis, disabilities, and death are all possible outcomes. For adults, such violent head movements are only associated with accidents that cause concussions. However, it’s easy for an adult even with minimal strength to shake a baby hard enough to cause such damage in seconds. Brain cells are destroyed and less oxygen is transported to the brain.

Shaken baby syndrome is frightening, but the good news is that you can’t accidentally cause it in your baby. It might seem easy to accidentally jostle your baby when pulling him or her out of a car seat or during play, but such motions will not cause the syndrome alone. For shaken baby syndrome to occur, a baby’s body must be shaken deliberately and forcefully. Of course, a car accident or serious fall could also be the cause.

The best way to prevent shaken baby syndrome is to choose your baby’s care providers wisely. Never leave your baby with someone you don’t fully trust or someone who seems like they might lose their temper easily. Most often, shaken baby syndrome occurs when an adult becomes frustrated with a baby’s inability to learn or follow directions. If you’re worried about your own temper around your baby, make sure someone else is around to take over when you become too angry. Also, talk to your doctor about anger management and ways to cope with your aggression outside of your maternal responsibilities.

The symptoms of shaken baby syndrome are sometimes hard to notice in infants, but you should always contact your baby’s pediatrician immediately if you notice any changes in behavior or appearance. Some immediate symptoms include loss of appetite, difficulty feeding, a glassy-eyed appearance, lethargy, vomiting, irritability, and rigidity. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your baby’s pediatrician right away so that he or she can determine the problem.

Source: Leslie Altimier: Shaken Baby Syndrome. The Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing Volume 22 Issue 1 pp. 68-76 March 2008

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