Neurological injury that arises due to shaking an infant violently is referred to as shaken baby syndrome (SBS). Classical clinical findings are retinal and subdural hemorrhages. Affected children may appear lethargic with poor feeding and appetite as well as extreme irritability and breathing difficulties.
Associated signs and symptoms like seizures, unconsciousness, and coma may also be seen. Furthermore, these children may suffer serious neurological deficits in terms of blindness, hearing loss, paralysis, and mental retardation. SBS is a medical emergency, which may require life-saving respiratory support and surgical operations.
The risk of SBS and associated consequences are significantly higher the younger an infant is. Girls are much less likely than boys to be affected and in approximately ninety percent of all SBS-related cases, the perpetrator is a male.
He is most often the biological father of the child. In some instances, the abuser may be the infant’s stepfather or the mother’s boyfriend. If the abuser is female, it is more likely for her to be the child’s babysitter rather than the mother. However, mothers may also be involved, especially when attempting to punish the child corporally.
Guardians who have idealistic expectations of their infants may be vulnerable to shaking their babies out of frustration. Single parents who are young and experiencing stress or were victims themselves of mistreatment as a child also increase the chances of their infant experiencing SBS.
Domestic instability and violence, in addition to depression and substance abuse or alcohol use, are also risk factors for potentially inflicting abusive head trauma to an infant.
Several studies show that large segments of some populations are unaware of the effects of shaking a baby. Thus educational campaigns to spread awareness on the aforementioned effects are key to preventing SBS.
Not only is it imperative to educate people on these effects, but it is equally important to provide guidance to parents with regards to the challenges of coping with infants. Healthcare professionals should also receive additional training in order to be able to detect and diagnose SBS, which can be easily mistaken for other conditions or be under-recognized.
It is never ever okay to shake, hit, or throw a baby under any circumstances. Taking care of an infant is beyond the shadow of any doubt a very demanding task and it is especially challenging for parents who are first-timers. However, this is by no means a justification for taking out frustrations on children.
In order to prevent abuse, parents are encouraged to never attempt disciplining a child when they themselves are upset. It is completely fine to stop, take a very deep breath, and wait for a few seconds before responding to whatever the child may have done.
Babies cry for various reasons and sometimes it is okay to let them do that alone, especially if they are fed, comfortable, and not ill. If parents suspect something may be wrong, then a pediatrician may be consulted to ensure that there are no underlying pathological concerns. If at any point parents feel overwhelmed with the tasks of parenthood, then it is imperative that they seek support from close family and friends.
Infants are vulnerable and parents or primary guardians are their first lines of defense. Therefore, infants should never be left alone with anyone who cannot be trusted. In addition, thorough background checks should always be done before entrusting an infant or young child to a babysitter or daycare.
Measures such as the installation of security cameras for remote monitoring in suspicious cases may be taken to protect children. SBS is completely preventable and prevention is fairly straightforward – never shake a baby!
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc