Shaken baby syndrome

Shaken baby syndrome is a term used to describe the signs and symptoms resulting from violent shaking or shaking and impacting 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.

What are the signs and symptoms of shaken baby syndrome?
The most common symptoms of shaken baby injuries are subdural hematoma (bleeding on the brain), cerebral edema (massive brain swelling) and retinal hemorrhages (bleeding inside the eye). Shaken baby injuries include one or more of these symptoms.

  • Subdural Hematoma – When a baby or child is violently shaken, the motion causes the blood vessels around the brain to stretch and tear.
  • Cerebral Edema – Violent shaking causes the brain to swell, increasing the pressure inside the baby’s head, which can lead to massive brain damage or death.
  • Retinal Hemorrhages – The same kind of violent motion that happens in the brain during shaking also occurs in the eyes. This type of bleeding can only be seen with special medical equipment.

What is the outcome or prognosis of victims of shaken baby syndrome?
This is a frequently asked question and unfortunately there are few statistics. Until a method for collecting such statistics is established, the true incidence will not be known.

The complications of shaken baby syndrome, however, are known. Even a brief shaking of an infant can cause irreversible brain damage. Many children affected by shaken baby syndrome die. Survivors often require lifelong medical care for:

  • Partial or total blindness
  • Developmental delays
  • Learning problems
  • Behavioral issues
  • Intellectual disability
  • Seizure disorders
  • Cerebral palsy

Source: Mayo Clinic Patient Care & Health Information

How can shaken baby syndrome be prevented?

It is important to note that shaken baby syndrome is preventable. Shaking occurs frequently when a frustrated caregiver loses control with an inconsolable crying baby. Parents should share the message of the dangers of shaking with all who care for their infant or child, including spouses, their own parents, siblings, day care providers and others. It is important to realize that just saying, “don’t shake a baby” is not enough. Parents and other care providers need assurance that allowing a baby to cry is okay if all their needs have been met. The care provider should address their stress level and try stress management. Parents need to let those caring for their baby know it is okay to call for help when needed.

Can tossing or rough play cause shaken baby syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome, which may result in severe brain trauma, is caused when a child is violently shaken. The head is subjected to back and forth motion in one or more directions resulting in rapid repeated severe acceleration and deceleration of the head. Activities involving an infant or a child such as tossing in the air, bouncing on the knee, placing a child in an infant swing or jogging with them in a backpack, do not cause the brain and eye injuries characteristic of shaken baby syndrome.

Where can I learn more?

To learn more about shaken baby syndrome, please visit the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome’s website at


To learn more, call Welia Health at 800.245.5671 or 320.225.3625.