What it is...

Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma is a term used to describe the signs and symptoms resulting from violent shaking or shaking and impacting of the head of an infant or small child. The degree of brain damage depends on the amount and duration of the shaking and the forces involved in impact of the head. Signs and symptoms range on a spectrum from minor (irritability, lethargy, tremors, vomiting) to major (seizures, coma, stupor, death). These neurological changes are due to destruction of brain cells secondary to trauma, lack of oxygen to the brain cells, and swelling of the brain. Extensive retinal hemorrhages in one or both eyes are found in the vast majority of these cases. The symptoms of subdural hematoma, brain swelling and retinal hemorrhages are accompanied in some, but not all, cases by bruising of the part of the body used as a "handle" for shaking. Fractures of the long bones and/or of the ribs may also be seen in some cases. In many cases, however, there is no external evidence of trauma either to the head or the body.

Approximately 20 percent of cases are fatal in the first few days after injury and the majority of the survivors are left with handicaps ranging from mild - learning disorders, behavioral changes - to moderate and severe, such as profound mental and developmental retardation, paralysis, blindness, inability to eat or exist in a permanent vegetative state.

Crying a Trigger to Violence

You knew your baby would cry. But, did you know how frustrating that crying could be when you have tried everything to comfort your baby, and your baby just keeps crying? Dealing with a crying baby can be very hard, and parents often don't realize just how frustrating it is until they are in a stressful situation. No one thinks they will shake their infant, but research shows crying as the number one trigger leading caregivers to violently shake and injure babies. The baby’s not upset with you. He or she may be:

  • Hungry: Try a bottle or a pacifier.
  • Bored: Try rocking or walking the baby or maybe go for a ride.
  • Frustrated: Try to pat or massage your baby; your contact lets your baby know your baby is safe.
  • Angry: Your baby gets upset too. Sing to your baby or put your baby in a swing.
  • Sleepy: But uncomfortable. Try a recorded lullaby or other music. 
  • Take a break: Lay your baby down on their back in a safe place, sit down or leave the room, count to ten or more, talk to another adult- call a friend for help, or call your doctor.


  • Take a break.
  • Do something for yourself every day.
  • Make friends with other parents.
  • Talk to someone you trust about your feelings when you feel tired or overwhelmed.
  • Take a parenting class. Try it with a friend.
  • Remember it’s okay for your baby to cry.