Nicole Austin – Scandalous

{November 20, 2007}   Shaken Baby Syndrome


Babies are fragile—NEVER SHAKE A BABY!

Normally, I wouldn’t use my blog for a public service type of message, but I have experience with, and very strong feelings about, Shaken Baby Syndrome. The possibility of this message preventing injury to even one child is too important not to take advantage of.

In addition to being an author, for the past twelve years I have worked in health care. Unfortunately, I have taken care of many shaken babies and seen the heartbreak firsthand. This weekend we had a particularly heartbreaking case and I wanted to share information here. 

SBS occurs to an estimated 1,200 to 1,400 children in the U.S. each year.

While only 1 out of 4 babies dies from SBS, the 3 who survive will require ongoing medical care for the rest of their lives.

SBS is child abuse involving violent shaking and possible head trauma from impact during the incident.

SBS can result in serious brain injury, seizures, mental retardation, paralysis, blindness, dislocated and broken bones, speech and learning difficulties, developmental delay, and a host of other problems.

Victims of SBS range in age from a few days to several months old; the average is six months of age.

More than 60% of the victims are male.

Almost 80% of the perpetrators of SBS are male.

  • 50% are the natural parents
  • 17% are non-relatives
  • 17% are the mother’s boyfriend
  • 6% are the step parents
  • 10% other

An infant may spend 2 to 3 hours a day crying. 20% – 30% of infants will exceed that amount of time.

SBS usually happens when a caregiver becomes frustrated, angry and loses control, shaking the baby to stop him/her from crying.

Attempt to soothe a crying baby

  • Meet basic needs such as feeding, burping, diaper change
  • Take the baby for a walk in a stroller or a ride in the car seat
  • Sing to the baby. Rock, walk or dance with the baby
  • Offer comforts such as a pacifier, lower lights and play soft music.
  • Run the vacuum or hair dryer

If nothing works and you become frustrated

  • Call a doctor
  • Call a friend, neighbor or relative to take over and give you a break
  • Walk away! Make sure the baby is secure in a crib or playpen, lock the house or apartment and take a 10 or 15 minute walk

Many incidents of shaken baby are not reported resulting in a delay in seeking medical care. The sooner medical attention is provided, the higher chance serious complications and even death may be avoided.

Here are some symptoms which may indicate a baby has been shaken. Most often, multiple symptoms will be present.

  • Unable to lift or turn head
  • Pinpoint or dilated pupils. Unequal pupil size. Pupils unresponsive to light
  • Blood pooling in eyes
  • Swelling, bulging and/or spongy area on the head
  • Not acting normal. Irritable. Lethargic. Decrease in smiling, vocalizing, eating, movement and/or responsiveness
  • Either muscle rigidity or decreased muscle tone
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures or spasms
  • Vomiting
  • Pale or bluish skin tone

Shaken Baby Syndrome is 100% preventable. Below is a list of links where you can find more information about this horrible and entirely too common form of child abuse.

The Shaken Baby Alliance

About Shaken Baby Syndrome

Shaken Baby Association

National Shaken Baby Coalition

Shaken Baby Prevention

The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome

Project Cope


Those are frightening statistics. The horrible thing is that it happens so easily and so often. People forget that children are fragile and need to be treated that way.

I was suprised to read how often babies are shaken. While I can understand how the frustration gets to caregivers, but they should be able to step away and protect that fragile young life!

Louise says:

This is a wonderful way to spread the word on SBS and to promote prevention.

Very well done ! You will never know how many children’s lives you will have saved or prevented from a life sentence of autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, blindness, and a myriad of invasive medical intervention. You are so right in saying the 3 of 4 children who survive suffer the effects for life. Many must also take a daily cocktail of powerful drugs to stop recurring seizures and other problems. These drugs take their toll on the kidneys. Many can die from kidney failure from these drugs.

I also want to add that children as old as 6 years or 9 years have been known to be victims of SBS.

Many children are not just shaken. Many are thrown or slammed down either on a soft bed, sofa, chair or other surface. Doesn’t matter if it’s hard or soft. What matters is that the whiplash effect of the accelleration – – decelleration mechanism is happening. This shears blood vessels and slams the soft brain against the skull.

Another site you may wish to add to your list is Their next international SBS conference will be held in Vancouver, Canada in November 2008. I attended their 2004 conference in Montreal.

Thank you for caring enough to post SBS information on this site.

I sometimes think that shaking, slamming and throwing babies and children has become the national sport of countries. SBS is increasing at alarming rates all over the world.

Thank you once again.


Louise Lafontaine (Gingerbread Grandma)

As the father of a shaken child, I applaud your effort to increase awareness of SBS and thank you for it. Unfortunately, in the absence of widespread awareness, personal experience like yours and ours tends to remain the motivation for action.

Two other things of note:

– prevention does work. Educating new parents about the danger of shaking and what they can do to help protect their child before they leave the hospital has been very successful. A program developed in Buffalo, New York has reduced the incidence of inflicted head injury by 50%. There’s info and links on our website or just Google “Mark Dias” and “shaken baby”…

– legislation to establish a federal awareness and prevention initiative is pending in Congress. The Shaken Baby Prevention Act of 2007 was introduced by Senator Chris Dodd and Rep. Nita Lowey in April, but needs more support to get traction on the floor. One thing that would really help is for more individuals to ask their Representative and Senators to cosponsor S.1204 and HR 2054 (not just to eventually vote for it).

Last, a thought to mull over. Perhaps one of your characters in a future novel can be someone who works in the healthcare field, is affected by a SBS tragedy and does something effetive to prevent more tragedies.

Thanks, George

Susan says:

Just to advise caution. Shaking or hurting a baby is NEVER acceptable under ANY circumstances, and people who actually do such things should be held accountable. But the SBS diagnosis is based on assumptions. We cannot assume everyone accused of shaking a baby has actually done so!

Hundreds of people accused of rape and murder have been exonerated since DNA came along to prove their innocence. Many were convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence and “expert” opinions. Anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time can be wrongly accused. That includes me, and you.

SBS accusations are often made when children have NO bruises or other outward signs, and when the caretakers have sterling reputations for being patient and loving caretakers. Yes, SOME such people may snap, but there are hundreds of like scenarios, with identical stories of what happened, all around the world. Could there be something doctors don’t yet know? “Experts” once thought polygraphs were reliable. They once thought “recovered memories” were reliable. They once thought the earth was flat. There are things experts don’t yet know!

Doctors will say that NOTHING but shaking can cause the symptoms associated with SBS, though at least three congenital conditions have been PROVEN to cause the same symptoms. Often, doctors do not even check for those conditions. Caretakers have been wrongly accused and prosecuted. Mistakes are discovered only if the baby lives and some doctor down the line questions the first diagnosis and tests for it.

Another assumption is that the last person with the child is the guilty party. There are known and proven cases of delayed collapse, where the baby seems “sick” but no one suspects is fatally harmed. In one case, the child was admitted to a hospital and abuse was suspected. The child had been under medical care for 16 hours, with no doctor or nurse suspecting anything serious, when a nurse noticed labored breathing. The baby was rushed to PICU and subsequently died. The mother fled town and was never found. If that baby had been at a babysitter’s rather than a hospital, the babysitter would have been accused, likely convicted, and jailed for up to LIFE.

My point is, NEVER shake a baby, but also, do not assume that those accused have done so. Justice means holding the guilty accountable. It also means NOT punishing innocents. It is not just to deprive children of a parent who has been wrongly accused! I am certain that someday answers will be found as to what is happening to some of these little ones. Maybe those answers will save lives. At least one of the congenital defects (GA-1), if diagnosed early, can be managed so the child never suffers ANY symptoms and can lead a completely normal life.

Thanks for the support and encouragement Louise and George. I just might do that with a character.

Susan, there are concrete ways to prove a baby has been shaken, even if there are no bruises. I can’t imagine any doctor going on symptoms alone when a simple CT scan shows clear and definite evidence of the injury.

While I am not involved in the investigations, I know that in the state of Florida, no one is assumed guilty. I don’t think anyone wants to see an innocent person punished unjustly. The point here was not in determining who is the guilty party, but in educating others not to shake babies. I’ll leave finding the guilty party to the legal professionals.

Jen says:

Realityworks, the company who makes computerized infant simulators, has a new Shaken Baby Syndrome Simulator, which shows how shaking causes brain damage. The simulator cries when activated, and then the instructor shakes it, and as the shaking continues, lights in the simulator’s head illuminate to show the different areas in which brain damage occur. The crying also stops when it’s shaken, which is something that happens in real life. The simulator comes with a great curriculum that helps participants to formulate a plan for what they will do if they are faced with an infant whose crying has lasted a long time. It’s a great teaching tool that can help people learn just how little shaking can cause damage. Check it out!

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