April 4, 2005
Methodist Rehabilitation Center cautions parents, caregivers about dangers of shaken baby syndrome
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Each year, thousands of babies suffer serious injury or death from Shaken Baby Syndrome, a tragic form of child abuse in which the perpetrator, usually a parent or caregiver, shakes a child so violently that it causes significant brain injury or even death.
As a part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month this April, Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s statewide safety and injury prevention program, Think First, is striving to stop the abuse of this preventable tragedy.
“Infants do not react to being shaken like an older child or adult,” says Dr. Rahul Vohra, medical director at Methodist. “Adults would minimize the impact by tightening the jaw and neck muscles, but babies don’t have the protective responses or strength to control the movement of their heads.”
Dr. Vohra says the whiplash motion causes the brain to slam against the inside of the skull and tear blood vessels, leading to bleeding around the brain. If blood pools within the skull it can create more pressure and possibly cause additional brain damage or death.
Lauren Fairburn, coordinator of Think First says that inconsolable crying is the number one trigger of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
“It is critical that caregivers understand that excessive crying is normal and learn how to stay calm in those situations,” she says. “If you become too stressed, place the baby in a safe place, like a crib, and walk away for a minute.”
Fairburn says that one out of four victims of shaken baby syndrome die and those who survive often suffer brain injuries that can lead to mental retardation, speech and learning disabilities, paralysis, seizures, cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss and death.
Yet studies show that 25 to 50 percent of Americans don’t realize the dangers of shaking a baby.
Common symptoms of shaken baby syndrome include:
- Lack of arousal
- Inability to follow movements
- Inability to suck or swallow
- Difficulty breathing or coma
“If brain swelling cuts off blood flow to the brain, the baby dies,” said Dr. Vohra. “It’s really important that victims of shaken baby syndrome receive medical treatment quickly. The prognosis is much better if the victim can be seen during that critical first hour after being injured.”
The National Exchange Club Foundation suggests the following strategies if you feel like you might be in danger of shaking your crying baby.
Look for reasons for your child’s distress. Make sure the baby is fed, burped and dry and is not experiencing discomfort from too tight clothes, diaper rash, teething or fever.
Try to soothe the baby. Try using a pacifier, hugging or cuddling, a stroller ride, music or a toy.
Don’t pick the baby up until you feel calm. Place the baby in a crib, and leave the room for few minutes. Sit down, close your eyes and count to 20. Ask a friend to take over for a while.
Call the doctor if you think the baby is sick.