Shaken Baby Syndrome: A Crime and Health Issue

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Louisiana Headlines: Doyline infant declared dead, parents in jail…Gretna babysitter arrested after 2-month old dies from Shaken Baby Syndrome…Toddler dies from Shaken Baby Syndrome in St. Landry.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. With that in mind, it’s important to note that Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is a leading cause of child abuse deaths in the United States

Shaken Baby Syndrome is a severe form of child abuse resulting from violently shaking an infant by the shoulders, arms, or legs. SBS may result from both shaking alone or from shaking with impact. Shaking a baby may be an angry response to prolonged infant crying.

 

Possible consequences

The “whiplash” effect of shaking a baby may lead to bleeding into the brain or into the eyes. These injuries can cause death, blindness, seizures, mental retardation or developmental delays; severe muscle weakness, paralysis or spasticity, all of which may interfere with movement, speech, and walking.

 

Risk Factors

Infants, especially those 2 to 4 months old are at greatest risk for SBS but children up to 5 years old have been victims. Babies and smaller children tend to cry longer and are easier to shake than older children. Infants with prior history of abuse, prematurity or disability, and one of a multiple birth also have an increased risk.

 

Parents and their partners

Biological fathers, stepfathers, and mothers’ boyfriends followed by mothers, make up the majority of reported cases. Single parents, parents who lack a support system and parents who have themselves been victims of abuse are also more likely to be perpetrators.

All babies cry, but not all caregivers are prepared to care for a baby. The key is responding properly to crying and other behaviors that trigger frustration or anger.

 

Tips for parents and caregivers

You are not a bad parent if your baby continues to cry despite attempts to console him/her. It is not your fault, nor your baby’s fault. It is normal and it will get better. If crying continues in spite of usual calming methods, ex. gently rocking and offering pacifier:

  • Check for signs of illness or discomfort like diaper rash or teething
  • Call the doctor if you suspect injury or illness
  • Assess whether baby is hungry or needs to be burped

If pushed to your limit focus on calming yourself. Put baby in a crib on her back, make sure she is safe, and then walk away; call a friend, relative, neighbor, or parent helpline for support. Check on her every 5 to 10 minutes.

Tell everyone who cares for your baby about the dangers of shaking and what to do if they become frustrated or upset, for example, if baby cries inconsolably.

See a health care professional if you have anger management problems or behavioral concerns.

Offer support to new parents in your family and community by offering to give them a break, sharing a parent helpline number, or simply being a friend.

 

Kathy W. Dillard, BSN, RN has been a nurse for over 17 years and is presently a Louisiana Child Care Health Consultant providing education and training to child care center staff in north Louisiana and the surrounding areas. She has been employed as a school nurse in the Bossier Parish School System for the past four years and was previously employed as a Practical Nursing instructor in the Louisiana Community and Technical College System for seven years.