Caring for you as we would for ourselves

Shaken baby syndrome: an act with disastrous consequences

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is serious brain injury and form of child abuse that occurs when a baby or young child is violently shaken. Veins that bridge from the brain to the dura mater are torn which leads to bleeding in the brain. Dr med. Roberta De Luca, Head of the NICU at Hôpital de La Tour provides more information about this type of trauma.

What causes shaken baby syndrome?

Forcefully shaking a baby or young child can cause violent acceleration/deceleration of the brain, which is injured as it moves within the skull. Spontaneous head movements and everyday actions by young children are not enough to cause bleeding in the brain.

Epidemiological studies indicate that caregivers – mainly parents – are more likely to forcefully shake a baby and cause shaken baby syndrome. They find it difficult to manage the baby’s crying and this is a key factor of stress and frustration that can lead to violent shaking. Exhaustion, coupled with what seems to be never-ending crying, can push the caregiver over the edge and cause them to shake the baby or young child in anger.

What are the consequences of shaken baby syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome can result in a wide spectrum of brain damage for the child and the consequences depend on the severity of the brain injury, ranging from a full recovery, without any lasting effects, to disabling or even killing the child. It may also carry legal consequences for the individual(s) responsible.

Many children who are victims of this abuse do not receive immediate medical care because the diagnosis is frequently hidden or denied by the individual(s) responsible due to shame and the possible consequences. It is likely that many cases are underdiagnosed, thereby reinforcing the idea put forward by certain experts that shaken baby syndrome may be the cause of psychological and mental difficulties, sensory deficits, motor deficits and cerebral palsy that cannot be explained otherwise.

How can you prevent shaken baby syndrome?

Some studies on the subject have shown that young parents do not realise the consequences of shaking a child. One of the key ways to prevent this act – which can destroy a life, in every sense of the word – is to better inform parents about shaken baby syndrome and its devastating consequences.

We also need to make young families aware of the feelings of frustration and exasperation experienced when a baby or child inconsolably cries. Learning to identify these emotions and recognise the onset of anger in order to ask for help from someone, or to temporarily move away from the crying child – while making sure they are safe – may also prevent the terrible consequences of this act.

If you would like to learn more about this syndrome, please contact the paediatric unit at Hôpital de La Tour and they will be happy to help.