Considered a form of child abuse that can result in permanent or fatal brain damage, shaken baby syndrome—also known as abusive head trauma or shaken impact syndrome—is a severe brain injury caused by forcefully shaking an infant or toddler. This type of injury destroys a child’s brain cells and cuts off the circulation of oxygen into his or her brain.
Babies have fragile neck muscles and typically struggle to support their heavy heads. If a baby is forcefully shaken, his or her brain moves back and forth within the skull, causing swelling, bruising, and bleeding. This type of abuse often occurs when a parent or caregiver shakes an infant or toddler severely out of anger or frustration.
Survivors of shaken baby syndrome may require lifelong medical care for conditions including:
- Cerebral palsy
- Seizure disorders
- Complete or partial blindness
- Hearing loss
- Developmental and cognitive issues
- Mental retardation
Only a few seconds of shaking a baby can result in irreversible brain damage. Many children affected by shaken baby syndrome die. For parents and caregivers, factors that may increase the risk of inflicting shaken baby syndrome include young or single parenthood, alcohol or substance abuse, stress, unstable family situations, or unrealistic expectations of babies. Furthermore, men are more likely to inflict shaken baby syndrome compared to women.