Preventing Head Trauma in Babies

Most people don’t realize that Shaken Baby Syndrome is the leading cause of head trauma deaths in children under the age of 5 in the United States. Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) happens when someone violently shakes a baby causing bleeding around the brain.

According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, approximately 25% of babies who experience an episode of violent shaking die, and of those who survive upwards of 80% will suffer lifelong disabilities. There are approximately 1,300 deaths every year attributed to SBS.

These deaths and injuries are 100% preventable. Educating caregivers on the dangers of shaking their babies and helping them find ways to calm themselves and the babies they care for can help reduce the risk.

What happens when a baby is violently shaken?

Children under the age of one are the most vulnerable to violent shaking. Their heads are heavier and larger in proportion to the rest of their bodies, their brains are fragile, and they have weak neck muscles. When a baby is jerked back and forth their fragile brains smash inside their skull. It only takes a few seconds of violently shaking a baby for damage to be done. The brain damage caused from shaking a baby can easily be more severe than that of a fall or drop from a height, hitting the head on a hard surface or even a car accident.

Actions like bouncing a baby on a knee or rocking a baby in your arms will not cause the violent force needed cause the brain to bleed. Jogging in a stroller or riding in a bumpy care ride will also not cause SBS.

How does this happen?

The number one trigger for SBS is an upset caregiver who is frustrated with a crying baby. Caregivers may be inadequately prepared for parenting, or may be under such stress that they cannot deal with the frustrations of parenting. Long periods of crying can overwhelm an already tired and stressed caregiver. Even well-intentioned caregivers, parents and babysitters can become angry, enraged and lose control when overwhelmed by the inability to soothe a crying baby. Remember, no matter how upset you feel, NEVER SHAKE A BABY!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that caregivers follow the below tips to help with the frustration of crying.

  • It is natural for babies to cry, especially babies with colic or reflux.
  • Understand that infant crying is worse in the first few months of life, but it will get better as the child grows.
  • Realize that it’s normal to have mixed feelings about babies when they cry, especially when you cannot stop them from crying.
  • Try calming a crying baby by rocking gently, swaddling in a blanket, offering a pacifier, holding your baby against your bare skin, singing or talking softly, taking a walk with a stroller, or going for a drive in the car.
  • If the baby won’t stop crying, check for signs of illness and call the doctor if you think the child is sick.
  • If you are getting upset, focus on calming yourself down. Put the baby in a safe place and walk away to calm down, checking on the baby every 5 to 10 minutes. SKWAK! Safe Kid, Walk Away. “Get a grip before you grip.”
  • Call a friend, relative, neighbor, parent helpline, or your child’s healthcare provider for support.
  • Never leave your baby alone with a person who is easily irritated, has a temper, or a history of violence.

Signs of SBS in a baby

  • Difficult staying awake
  • Decreased appetite, poor feeding or vomiting for no apparent reason
  • Bruising on arms and chest that resemble grab marks
  • Inability to lift head
  • Head or forehead appears larger than usual or soft-spot on head appears to be bulging
  • No smiling or vocalization
  • Inability of eyes to focus or track movement
  • Unequal size of pupils
  • Breathing problems
  • Tremors of seizures
  • Extreme fussiness

If you are concerned a baby may have been shaken, prompt medical attention is imperative. **Contact 911 immediately**

What can I do to help?

Share your knowledge of Shaken Baby Syndrome with those who are caring for babies. Remember this could be grandparents, older siblings, babysitters, or family friends.

Reassure caregivers that crying is normal and all babies cry.

Help caregivers by showing them ways to calm a baby.

Offer to be a “listening ear” when a caregiver is feeling upset, stressed or frustrated. Let them know that they can call you, even in the middle of the night.

Let caregivers know it’s OK to put the baby or child in a safe place, walk away and take a break. Talk to caregivers about ways they can calm down when they are upset.

Share the 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) hotline with caregivers.  All calls are FREE and CONFIDENTIAL. Counselors will help guide caregivers through this stressful and challenging time

Additional Reading:

National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome – Learn More (

Preventing Abusive Head Trauma in Children|Child Abuse and Neglect|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC

Shaken Baby Syndrome – Child Help