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Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma Prevention



A young family

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma?


Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma (SBS) is the name given to physical child abuse that can occur when a young child is severely or violently shaken.  The shaking may only last a few seconds, but the effects last a lifetime. Young children, especially babies, have very weak neck muscles and do not yet have full control of their head movements. When they are shaken, the head whips back and forth slamming their fragile brain tissue against the hard skull, causing bruising, bleeding and swelling inside the brain. Shaking combined with throwing, dropping or slamming the baby can be deadly.

Prevent Child Abuse Vermont is pleased to announce our expanded Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma Prevention Project. Along with the fundamentals of Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma, we have added important information about toddler safety, safe sleeping practices and tools to determine if the person(s) you are leaving your infant or toddler with can safely care for him/her. This training is free and appropriate for students expectant parents, parents, grandparents, childcare providers, healthcare workers, and any Vermonter interested in keeping our children safe.

What triggers shaking?

Inconsolable crying is the number one reason given for shaking a baby. The perpetrators normally have little or no knowledge on how to safely care for a crying infant or young child. The caregiver becomes frustrated and loses control and violently shakes the child to get him/her to stop crying. They just want the baby to stop crying!

Why are babies vulnerable to shaking?

  • Babies normally cry for two to three hours a day.
  • Some cry for longer periods for unknown reasons.
  • Babies communicate by crying.

What are the long term effects?

Although there are sometimes no outward physical signs of trauma, there may some such as bruising, bleeding or swelling.

  • Severe brain damage
  • Learning disabilities
  • Blindness
  • Paralysis
  • Hearing loss
  • Speech problems
  • Death

Other symptoms include: change in behavior; irritability; lethargy or loss of consciousness; pale or bluish skin; vomiting; and convulsions. 

What should you do if your baby has been shaken?

If you or someone else shakes your baby, the most important step is to get medical care right away. Immediately take your child to the pediatrician or emergency room. Don't let embarrassment, guilt or fear get in the way of your child's health or life. If your baby's brain is damaged or bleeding inside from severe shaking, it will only get worse without treatment. Getting medical care right away may save your child's life and prevent serious health problems from developing. Be sure to tell your pediatrician, or other doctor, if you know or suspect that your child was shaken.

Sleeping with Your Baby: Is It Safe?

Sleeping, or sharing a bed with your infant, could put your child in harm’s way. Many families practice cosleeping, but according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) placing babies to sleep in adult beds puts them at risk of suffocation or strangulation. In fact, a CPSC study found that an average of 64 babies under the age of two die each year after being placed to sleep in adult beds, including waterbeds and daybeds. Babies can: suffocate when an adult rolls on top of or against them; become entrapped or wedged between the mattress or another object; suffocate when they are lying face down on an adult mattress or soft bedding; strangle when their head becomes trapped in rails or openings on the bed. If you do choose to share your bed with your baby, take precautions! 

  • Never sleep with your baby if you are under the influence of alcohol or any drug, because that could reduce your awareness of the baby.
  • Don’t let other children, particularly toddlers, sleep with your infant.
  • Always place your baby on his back to sleep to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
  • Always leave your child’s head uncovered while sleeping.
  • Make sure your headboard and footboard don’t have openings or cutouts that could trap your baby’s head. 
  • Make sure your mattress fits snugly in the bed frame so that your baby won’t become trapped in between the frame and the mattress.
  • Don’t place a baby to sleep in an adult bed alone.
  • Don’t use pillows, comforters, quilts, and other soft or plush items on the bed.
  • Don’t place your bed near draperies or blinds where your child could be strangled by cords. To keep your little one close by, without putting your baby in your bed, try placing a bassinet or crib next to your bed. This can help you maintain that desired closeness, which can be especially important if you’re breastfeeding. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) says that having an infant sleep in a separate crib in the same room as the mother reduces the risk of SIDS.

Source: CPSC and KidsHealth (www.kidshealth.org)