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Shaken Baby Syndrome - Fact Sheet

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Types of brain disorders

Shaken Baby Syndrome - Fact Sheet

Shaken Baby Syndrome is a form of Traumatic Brain Injury that occurs when a baby is violently shaken causing damage to the baby's fragile brain.


It causes long-term traumatic brain injury to the baby's brain, which can result in learning difficulties and behavioural problems later in life.


Why do people shake babies?

Some reasons for why Shaken Baby Syndrome occurs include:

  • A person may lack experience with babies, be unprepared and have little knowledge about babies. As a result a person may become overwhelmed and frustrated at inconsolable crying and lose control.
  • According to research by Becker (1998) [1] inconsolable crying is one of the most commonly cited reasons for aggression towards children.


The Shaken Baby Prevention Project (SBPP) developed a model to show some of the complex contributing factors leading to shaking. The Model shows the parental behaviours, environmental factors and child characteristics that may contribute to a shaking episode [1]. All these factors are coupled with no knowledge about the effects of shaking a baby may contribute:

Factors about the baby: Age, crying behaviour, high needs
Factors about the environment: Isolation, domestic violence, lack of resources
Factors about the carer: Isolated, depressed, frustrated



How common is it?

Shaken Baby Syndrome is a widely under-reported and misdiagnosed form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Less severe forms of shaken baby syndrome can be misdiagnosed as a viral infection by GPs and emergency room doctors who are less familiar with the symptoms of shaken baby syndrome. Also, survivors are likely to suffer learning problems, epilepsy and behavioural problems, which may be diagnosed as other conditions. For this reason it is difficult to get accurate numbers for Shaken Baby Syndrome.


What are the signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken baby injuries usually occur in children younger than 2 years old, but may be seen in children up to the age of 5.


Injuries related to Shaken Baby Syndrome:

  • Brain hemorrhages
  • Permanent TBI
  • Bleeding in the eyes
  • Spinal cord damage
  • Fracture of the ribs and bones


Other Symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Breathing problems
  • Vomiting
  • Pale or blue skin


What damage does it cause to the family and individuals?

  • Suffering an inflicted traumatic brain injury at an early age places children at risk of significant impairment in their development. Learning difficulties, behaviour problems, epilepsy.
  • Mild to severe impairments can impact cognitive, social, physical, emotional and behavioural functioning. This can lead to problems with meeting milestones in life and adjustment difficulties
  • There may be difficulties in the school system.
  • Costs to family to provide additional support
  • Any cognitive/behavioural difficulties may be mistaken as a personality flaw and so a person's relationships can be impacted.
  • Problems due to TBI may go undetected causing lifelong difficulties with employment and relationships



What support is out there for children who have been shaken?

Adults Surviving Child Abuse: ASCA is a national Australian non-government organisation dedicated to the health and wellbeing of adult survivors of all forms of child abuse and neglect. PH. 1300 657 380

References and further information

Becker, J.C., Liersch, R., Tautz, C., Schlueter, B., & Andler, W. (1998). Shaken baby syndrome: report on four pairs of twins. Child Abuse & Neglect, 22, 931-937.




National Centre on Shaken Baby Syndrome


Parents Under Pressure Program


My Time - Supporting Parents of Children With Disability


Shaken Baby Syndrome Information Western Australia



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