Shaken Baby Syndrome

ExitCare ImageShaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a severe form of head injury caused by physical child abuse. Shaken baby syndrome occurs when a child is shaken with force by the shoulders, arms, or feet. It occurs most commonly in the first year of life. However, it also occurs in children up to age 5 years. The shaking causes the baby's brain to bounce back and forth against the inside of their skull. The bouncing destroys brain cells and the brain does not get enough oxygen. This leads to bruising, swelling, and bleeding of the brain (intracerebral hemorrhage) or the eyes. This can lead to lasting brain damage or death. Although there are usually no physical signs of trauma to the head, there may be broken, injured, or out-of-joint bones and injuries to the neck and spine. Shaken baby syndrome does not result from normal, playful interactions with a child. It is important to never shake a baby under any circumstances.


Often times, SBS is caused by a parent or caretaker that shakes the baby out of anger, frustration, or loss of control because the baby will not stop crying.


  • No history of trauma.

  • Changes in behavior.

  • Difficulty breathing.

  • Hard time staying awake.

  • Loss of consciousness.

  • The baby is pale or has a blue color (cyanotic).

  • Throwing up.

  • Uncontrollable shaking (convulsions).

  • Hard time nursing or eating.


Shaken baby syndrome is diagnosed by looking at the baby and seeing the symptoms. Blood tests and X-rays may be performed.


Shaken baby syndrome can lead to:

  • Mental retardation.

  • Loss of movement in the arms, legs, or other parts of the body.

  • Uncontrollable shaking (convulsions).

  • Vision impairment and blindness.

  • Slowed mental and physical development.

  • Muscle spasms.

  • Cerebral palsy.

  • Death.


Emergency treatment is needed right away. Treatment usually includes life saving measures, such as stopping the brain's internal bleeding and relieving the pressure in the brain.


  • Make sure the people that take care of a baby (parents, siblings, grandparents, childcare providers, and neighbors) know that shaking a baby in not okay.

  • All babies cry. Caregivers often feel overwhelmed by a crying baby. If you feel overwhelmed call a friend, relative, or neighbor for support or help. Take a break from the situation. If support is not available right away, the caregiver could place the baby in a crib (making sure the baby is safe), close the door, and check on the baby every 5 minutes. If you have no one to help you and the baby will not stop crying:

  • Feed the baby, change the diaper, and make sure the baby is not too hot or cold. Make sure their clothing is not too tight.

  • Walk, rock, dance, or massage the baby gently.

  • Give the baby a pacifier or a toy that makes a noise like a rattle.

  • Take the baby for a walk outside in a stroller or a ride in the car in a car seat.


  • You think your baby may have SBS.

  • Your baby will not wake up.

  • Your baby is cyanotic.

  • Your baby has convulsions.

  • Your baby starts throwing up.

  • Your baby shows changes in behavior.

  • Your baby has bruises on their arms or neck.

Do not be afraid to tell your pediatrician or emergency room caregiver that your baby was shaken. Tell your caregiver right away if your baby has been the victim of SBS so your baby can be treated fast and properly.