Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention, Children Ages Birth to Four Years

In the United States, around 1,000 to 3,000 children are shaken each year. It is likely that many more cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome exist but are not diagnosed or reported. In New York State (NYS), an average of 33 children from birth to four years are hospitalized each year because of Shaken Baby Syndrome, and 89 percent of these children are under one year old. One out of every four children who is shaken dies from their injuries, and 80 percent of survivors suffer permanent damage such as brain injury, blindness, or learning disability.

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS)?

  • SBS occurs when an adult violently shakes an infant or young child.
  • The baby's brain moves back and forth within the skull, which can cause bleeding within the skull.

What are the long-term results of SBS?

Shaking can cause:

  • Permanent brain damage
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Blindness
  • Hearing loss
  • Learning & behavior problems
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis (loss of the use of arms and legs)
  • Death

What may cause someone to shake a baby?

  • Most adults who admit to shaking a baby say they became frustrated and upset when the baby would not stop crying
  • Stressful life events may contribute to a person becoming upset and shaking a baby:
    • Becoming a new parent
    • Financial strains
    • Problems at work or in relationships
  • Most people who shake a baby or young child do not intend to hurt or kill the child. They do not realize that their actions could cause harm.
  • Anyone could shake a child, even a mother, father, sibling, or babysitter.

What can I do to prevent SBS from happening to my child?

  • The most important thing is to make sure that every person who cares for your child knows to never, ever shake a baby.
  • Talk to your family, friends, and babysitters about the dangers of SBS.
  • Make sure that anyone caring for your child knows that it is okay to call you if they become upset and need a break.
  • Share ideas for calming your baby with caregivers before you leave them alone with your child.

What if my baby will not stop crying?

  • Make sure all of your baby's basic needs are met. Ask yourself these questions: Is she hungry? Is he too hot or too cold? Is she sick? Does he need a diaper change?
  • Gently rock your baby.
  • Touch your baby. Skin to skin contact will help to soothe and relax you and your baby.
  • Run a vacuum cleaner, hairdryer, or make some other white noise.
  • While sitting, lie your baby face down across your knees and gently pat or rub their back.
  • Play soft music, sing, or hum to your baby.
  • Take your baby for a ride in the stroller.
  • Swaddle (or wrap) your baby in a soft blanket.

What should I do if I become frustrated with the way my baby is acting?

If you have tried several methods to soothe your baby but she is still crying, it is okay to put the baby down in a safe place (like a crib) and take a short break.

  • Spend five to10 minutes reading, listening to music, exercising, or talking to a friend.
  • Check on the baby after a short time. Once you feel relaxed you can try again to stop your baby's crying.

What are the immediate signs that a baby may have been shaken?

  • Extreme irritability (fussy)
  • Not eating/ poor appetite
  • No smiling or vocalization (talking)
  • Difficulty swallowing, sucking, or breathing
  • Head or forehead is larger than usual
  • Dilated pupils/ pupils different sizes
  • Baby is very stiff or like a rag doll
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty staying awake

What should I do if I suspect a baby has been shaken?

Call 911 immediately! Emergency medical care could prevent permanent brain damage, or even save the baby's life.

What else should I know about SBS?

Remember, no baby has ever died from crying. It is better to leave your baby in a safe spot (like a crib) while you take a short break than to risk becoming upset and hurting your child. Please share the information in this factsheet with everyone who cares for your child.

Where can I find more information about SBS?