Never shake your baby
Taking care of a fussy baby, or a baby who cries and cannot be consoled, is very, very stressful. Sometimes, usually out of frustration, a caregiver will shake the baby forcefully, in an attempt to make him stop crying. Never shake a baby because his tiny, fragile brain may be damaged.
It takes only a few seconds of shaking to cause irreversible brain damage in an infant. Further damage can occur if the shaking ends with the baby hitting something, like a wall or mattress. When a baby is shaken to the point where his brain is damaged, it is called shaken baby syndrome (SBS) or shaken impact syndrome.
SBS is the leading cause of death in child abuse cases in the United States. The average age of the victims is between 3 and 8 months. In most cases, the person who injures the baby is a young male in his early 20s. He often is the baby's father or the mother's boyfriend.
When a baby is shaken forcefully, the brain strikes the inside of the skull. This causes blood vessels and nerves to burst and the brain tissue to tear. Afterwards, the brain swells, causing more pressure and more damage. About half the babies who have SBS die.
Children who survive may suffer:
- Partial or total blindness
- Hearing loss
- Developmental delays
- Learning problems
- Intellectual disabilities
In mild cases, the baby may appear normal after the shaking. But over time, he may develop one or more of the problems listed above. Often a problem is first noticed when the child goes to school and has trouble learning or behaving.
SBC can be totally prevented, especially when parents recognize when they are frustrated and get help to reduce stress.
If your baby won't stop crying, the article Soothing your crying baby provides helpful tips.
Last reviewed August 2009
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I soothe my baby if she has colic?
About 1 in 5 babies develops colic - usually between 1 and 4 months of age. They cry constantly, often extending or pulling up their legs or passing gas. Sometimes their tummies are enlarged with air and gas from crying. There's no one cause of colic, but there are many different ways to ease your baby's discomfort. One way is to walk her in a soft-sided baby carrier that you strap to the front of your body. You can also try laying her tummy-down across your knees and gently rubbing her back. The pressure against her tummy may relieve her discomfort. Breastfeeding moms can ask their baby's health care providers about a change in food choices or eliminating specific foods that may cause your baby's colic. Keep in mind that colic usually disappears by 4 months of age, no matter what treatments you try.
How should I take my baby’s temperature?
If your child is younger than 3 years, taking a rectal temperature gives the best reading. Here's how:
- Clean the end of a digital thermometer with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Rinse it with cool water.
- Put a small amount of petroleum jelly on the end.
- Place your child belly down across your lap or on a firm surface. Put your palm against his lower back, just above his bottom. Or place your child face up and bend his legs to his chest. Rest your free hand against the back of the thighs.
- With the other hand, turn the thermometer on and insert it 1/2 inch to 1 inch into the anal opening. Don’t insert it too far. Hold the thermometer in place loosely with two fingers, keeping your hand cupped around your child's bottom, until you hear the beep. Remove it and check reading.
What do I do if my baby is constipated?
Your baby's bowel moments depend on her age and eating habits. Every baby is different. Some babies have a bowel movement right after each feeding. Others have it only once a day. It also is normal that a breastfed baby (3 to 6 weeks of age) passes stools only once a week. Formula fed babies should pass stools at least once a day. If your baby is having irregular bowel movements but her stools are soft (no firmer than peanut butter), this isn't a sign of constipation. But if your baby's stools are firm, she seems fussy or cries when having a bowel movement, she might be constipated. Talk to your baby's health care provider.