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Shaken Baby Syndrome

What is shaken baby syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome is brain injury caused by violent shaking. Intense shaking causes your baby's brain to bleed, bruise, and swell. This leads to decreased oxygen to your baby's brain. It may result in permanent, severe brain damage and can be life-threatening.

What increases the risk of shaken baby syndrome?

Persons caring for a baby may get frustrated, frightened, or angry due to the baby's uncontrolled crying. They may shake the baby out of frustration, in a desire to stop the baby from crying. This is child abuse, even if it is an accident.

What are the signs and symptoms of shaken baby syndrome?

  • Fussiness or uncontrolled crying

  • Cool, pale, or blue skin

  • Poor feeding or vomiting

  • Weakness, sleepiness, or difficulty waking your baby

  • Blood or blood spots in the eyes

  • Bulging soft spot on your baby's head

  • Seizures or coma

  • Trouble breathing or slow breathing

How is shaken baby syndrome diagnosed?

Caregivers often look for particular injuries to diagnose shaken baby syndrome. These include bleeding in the brain and eyes, and fractures of the ribs and bones. Your baby may have any of the following tests to look for these injuries:

  • Ophthalmoscopy: This test allows caregivers to see the back of your baby's eye using a magnifying instrument with a light. Caregivers may use eye drops to dilate the pupil. This helps caregivers see the back of your baby's eyes clearly.

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your child's head. The pictures may show bleeding and swelling. Your baby may be given dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell caregivers if he is allergic to iodine or shellfish. He may also be allergic to the dye.

  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your child's head. An MRI may show bleeding or swelling in your baby's brain. Your baby may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell caregivers if he is allergic to iodine or shellfish. He may also be allergic to the dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell caregivers if your child has any metal in or on his body.

How is shaken baby syndrome treated?

  • Medicines: Your baby may be given medicine in his IV to decrease brain swelling and prevent seizures.

    • Anticonvulsant medicine: These are given to prevent seizures caused by bleeding and swelling in your baby's brain.

    • Brain diuretics: These are used to help decrease swelling in your baby's brain. This may improve blood flow in his brain.

  • Ventilator: This is a machine to help your baby breathe if he has difficulty breathing on his own.

  • Surgery: Your child may need a shunt placed in his head or surgery to decrease bleeding or swelling in his head.

What are the risks of shaken baby syndrome?

A child who has shaken baby syndrome may have bleeding into his eyes. This may lead to blindness. Mental retardation, nerve and muscle problems, and growth delays may be seen in babies who survive shaken baby syndrome. They may require lifelong medical care. Shaken baby syndrome can be life-threatening.

What can I do to prevent shaken baby syndrome?

  • Find out why your baby is crying: Crying is normal for a child. A baby cries for many reasons. He may be hungry, need his diaper changed, or may be too cold or hot. Sometimes he cries just because he wants to be held. Crying may also be a way for your baby to release stress or tension. Crying may also tell you that your baby is hurt or sick.

  • Choose caregivers carefully: Make sure everyone who cares for your baby, including babysitters, understands the dangers of shaking a child. If you have concerns about people who have contact with your child, do not leave your child alone with them.

  • Manage your feelings: It is normal to feel upset and angry when your baby cries and cannot be consoled. Learn how to handle these feelings. Plan ahead to avoid hurting your baby. Call a friend or family member when you feel upset with your child. Post hotline numbers where you can see them and use them. Do the following if your baby is crying hard and cannot be consoled:

    • Stop: Put the baby in a safe place and leave the room. Do not touch the baby if you are very upset or angry.

    • Calm down: Call hotline numbers or a friend or family member for advice and support. Slowly count to 10 and take some deep breaths.

    • Try again: When you have calmed down, go back to your baby and try again to help him stop crying. Try putting the baby in a carrier, or take the baby for a walk in a stroller. You may also try to comfort him with his favorite blanket or stuffed animal.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome
    1433 N. Highway 89, Suite 110
    Farmington , UT 84025
    Phone: 1- 801 - 447-9360
    Phone: 1- 888 - 273-0071
    Web Address:
  • The Shaken Baby Alliance
    8551 Boat Club Rd, # 117
    Ft. Worth , TX 76179
    Phone: 1- 877 - 636-3727
    Web Address:

When should I contact my child's caregiver?

Contact your child's caregiver if:

  • Your child has a fever.

  • Your child is crying hard and you cannot console him.

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You think your baby has been shaken by another person.

  • You think you might shake your baby or hurt him in some other way.

  • Your child is very sleepy, is difficult to wake up, or will not wake up at all.

  • Your child has a seizure.

  • Your child is having trouble breathing or stops breathing completely.

  • Your child has no energy or is limp like a rag doll.

  • Your child does not want to eat or is vomiting.

  • Your child is very cranky and crying more than normal.

  • Your child has blood spots or blood in his eyes.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your baby's care. Learn about your baby's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your baby's caregivers to decide what care you want for your baby. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.