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How to Prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Shaking a Baby for any Reason is Child Abuse

Learn how not to lose control when your baby is crying.

Approximately 1200-1400 children were brought to the hospital last year in the United States for treatment of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Of these, 20%-30% died of their injuries and the remainder will suffer with lifelong complications from their injuries.

Many new parents find themselves overwhelmed by the often overwhelming responsibilities of child rearing and become irritable, exhausted and stressed out. This may cause some parents to lose control--usually when the baby is crying--and shake the baby to try and make it stop.

Research has shown that baby boys less than six months of age are more likely to get shaken, but the amount of female victims is not insignificant. Often, it may be a step- parent, relative or caregiver that does the shaking, however a parent is usually the abuser.

Shaking a baby for any reason is child abuse, and should be reported immediately. Even a small amount of shaking can lead to brain damage and future complications.

  • When the baby is crying, check to see if it needs something. Perhaps its diaper is dirty or it’s hungry. Maybe the child is too hot or too cold, or is running a fever. Many times if you can identify the cause of the baby’s irritation and remedy it, the baby will stop crying. It is best to have a standard check list: diaper, food, sleep, teething, etc. If you have a colicky baby, you will need to adapt to the constant crying. Be sure you have your baby thoroughly checked out for possible reflux problems or other stomach concerns.

  • Try and stay calm and rational. You may feel angry or frustrated, but try to remind yourself to stay calm at all costs. If you find that you are losing control, place the baby safely in the crib and taking a time out for a few minutes. Sometimes all you need is a few moments to take a deep breath and calm down before tackling the problem again.
  • If you can’t find the reason for your baby’s crying, try taking it for a walk and getting some fresh air. Or try going for a car ride with your baby. Sometimes the soothing sounds of the engine can put your baby to sleep.

  • Try talking to the baby in a calm tone of voice. Maybe rock it gently in your arms or do both at the same time.

  • Call a relative or friend who has experience in child rearing. Sometimes they may know a reason for the child’s discomfort that you have over looked. If you feel yourself losing control ask them to come over and help you deal with the situation. Babies don’t come with a user manual, and new parents sometimes need a helping hand.

  • If your spouse is around, ask them to deal with the baby until you’ve had a chance to cool down.

  • Make sure that you find responsible and experienced caregivers for your baby while you are away. Don’t take a chance that someone else will abuse your child when you aren’t around.

  • If your baby cries often, try setting up a regular child care relief. An hour of peace a few times a week can work wonders for your outlook on life. With your well deserved hour off, try going to the gym and taking your frustrations out on the weights, or by doing other rigorous activities. Research has shown that exercise is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety.

Whatever you choose to do, shaking your baby is not to be used as a disciplinary action, and is not an acceptable method of taking your frustrations out.

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