Shaken baby syndrome, also known as abusive head trauma, occurs as a result of mishandling of a baby. Babies have larger heads proportional to their bodies than adults, and have weaker neck muscles. Their skull is also thinner compared to a fully formed adult skull.
If a baby is picked up and shaken vigorously, the baby cannot adequately control the movement of its head which will flop back and forward and side to side with considerable force. When shaken, the baby’s brain moves back and forth inside the head. This damage can also occur as a result of dropping, throwing or hitting a baby.
Shaken baby syndrome can result in injuries that can vary from whiplash, muscle tearing, eye haemorrhages, brain haemorrhages, coma, convulsions and death. Bruising may also be seen on the arms and trunk where the baby has been held tightly. In milder cases, a baby that has been shaken vigorously will appear normal but will develop problems over time. Shaking can cause learning and developmental conditions throughout the life of the baby.
Shaken baby syndrome occurs as a result of rough handling of a baby out of abuse or frustration. It is not a result of playful bouncing, lesser falls or controlled play. Accidental falls are also unlikely to cause damage to the degree of abuse.
It is important to always treat a child gently. If a person caring for a baby is experiencing trouble managing any stress or emotions relating to the care, then they should always seek help.
A CT or MRI scan can help identify any injuries as a result of shaken baby syndrome.