Shaken Baby Syndrome refers to a type of injury suffered by a child who has apparently been violently shaken by caretakers. This shaking causes the brain to hit the inside of the skull and may also damage the brain stem, the area around the neck where the spine attaches itself to the brain itself.
Statistics You Must Know About Shaken Baby Syndrome
1. In the majority of cases of shaken baby syndrome, there are no visible signs of outward trauma or other injuries suffered by the infant. Internal injuries are typically the only injuries suffered by the infant or child, which is part of the reason for the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome rather than the assumption that such injuries are caused by falls or trauma.
2. The condition can be fatal for infants. Estimated rates of mortality or death for those suffering from shaken baby syndrome range from around 15% to upwards of 38%; the median average is between 20% and 25%.
3. Some estimate that up to half of infant deaths caused by child abuse are due to shaken baby syndrome.
4. The nonfatal consequences of shaken baby syndrome can vary according to degree of severity of the injuries. These often include visual impairment up to and including permanent blindness, motor skill impairment including such conditions as cerebral palsy, hearing impairment, learning disabilities, and cognitive disabilities.
5. Because diagnosis is done by physician inference, the injuries looked for include multiple fractures of the long bones, soft tissue injuries, swelling of the brain and subdural hematomas. Fractured ribs may also be present. The symptoms of shaken baby syndrome have been modified over the years but physicians look for injuries that cannot be explained by medical conditions or accidents. They are also more likely to infer shaken baby syndrome when an infant presents without other external trauma or injuries.
6. Immediate effects of shaken baby syndrome include failure to thrive, vomiting, bulging of the fontanels (soft spots) on an infant’s head, seizures, lethargy, increased growth of the skull, dilated pupils, and interrupted breathing. An infant may also be stiff and suffer from an inability or decreased likelihood to move.
7. The type of injury suffered by an infant is also considered in shaken baby syndrome. Typically these are rotational injuries not likely caused by a fall or rough play. Linear injuries are more often suffered when infants and children suffer falls and other normal, external traumas.
8. In 2010, Time Magazine reported that, according to researchers at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, physicians were seeing a marked increase in shaken baby syndrome in the months prior. In 512 cases of head trauma reported in infants in four separate hospitals, the number of diagnoses of shaken baby syndrome had increased to 9.3 per month, compared to 6 per month every month since 2004.
9. The same article stated that cases of shaken baby syndrome correlate with economic issues and other stressors for parents. The same researchers noted that in 1999, after a hurricane devastated areas of North Carolina, researchers at a local university found that in the six months that followed this disaster, child abuse cases causing brain injuries increase by some 500% since the time before the hurricane, showing that stress can be a mitigating factor in child abuse with related brain injury.
10. Other studies show that caregivers who are at high risk for becoming abusers are often those who have unrealistic expectations of children, expecting the child to fulfill their emotional needs. These ones may be at the most risk for abusing children and causing shaken baby syndrome.
11. While shaken baby syndrome can be an isolated event, it is believed that in some 40% of reported cases there was a past history of abuse and prior head injuries. These include bleeding and swelling of the brain and fractures suffered by abuse.
12. It is estimated that some 1,000 to over 3,000 children and infants suffer from shaken baby syndrome in the U.S. every year.
13. In the U.S., the annual cost of hospitalization and treatment of infants suffering from shaken baby syndrome is estimated at $1.2 to $1.6 billion every year.
14. Shaken baby syndrome and its resultant injuries can occur within seconds of a child being shaken violently.
15. According to the Center for Disease Control in the U.S., a crying baby is more likely to suffer from shaken baby syndrome as parents shake the baby to prevent or control crying, or out of frustration.
16. A 2011 report by Health Day reported that in all cases of shaken baby syndrome, women are as likely to be perpetrators of the abuse as men.
17. The same report stated that women are less likely to be convicted of criminal charges stemming from shaken baby syndrome than men. This may be due in part to the severity of injuries that infants are likely to suffer from men who often inflict greater harm on the child, and because men may be more likely to confess their actions than women.
18. According to the report, biological parents are the most likely perpetrators followed by male companions of the biological mother.
19. The average age of infants suffering from shaken baby syndrome was just over 9 months, according to the research above. Two-thirds of those children were boys.
20. The median age of female perpetrators for abuse causing shaken baby syndrome was 34. The median age for male perpetrators was 27.
21. Some experts caution that certain injuries attributed to shaken baby syndrome could be caused by a vitamin C deficiency in infants. Other theorize that nutritional deficiencies can make an infant more prone to injuries that mimic shaken baby syndrome. No conclusive test results exist to support these theories.
22. The Baby Shaker was a controversial app created for smart phones that allowed the user to shake their phone until a cartoon baby died. The app was deleted and removed by Apple after user protest.
23. In 1997 Louise Woodward, an au pair in the UK, was convicted of manslaughter after the death of her charge, Matthew, when the boy died of a case of shaken baby syndrome. Hers was one of the first criminal cases tried and successfully convicted based on this diagnosis.
24. Experts say that increased risk factors for shaken baby syndrome include young or single parents, domestic violence in the home, drug and alcohol abuse, mental and emotional distresses in parents including postpartum depression, lack of external support for parents (i.e., extended family, church), unrelated adults staying in the home, lower education for parents, and unstable family dynamics.
25. Increased risk factors for infants include low birth weight, unwanted infants, male infants, colicky or overly fussy babies.
26. Because incessant crying is often the leading risk factor for infants and shaken baby syndrome, experts have stated that preventative measures include counseling for expectant parents and especially young parents or those facing economic stressors. Support groups for parents after a child is born is also recommended for the prevention of shaken baby syndrome.
27. Former Canadian pathologist Charles Randal Smith caused controversy in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when it was found that flawed procedures for his autopsies conducted out of Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto had led to diagnoses of shaken baby syndrome in many of his cases. A full inquiry was opened and the criminal cases in question were reexamined. More than 200 cases were reopened to note if criminal charges had been wrongfully filed. The resultant inquiry noted that there were problems with over 20 of his cases. In 2011 Smith was stripped of his medical license due to “disgraceful conduct.”
Shaken baby syndrome remains a controversial diagnosis and condition but many experts urge vigilance as well as caution when it comes to treating infants with closed head injuries. Doctors are urged to note all injuries suffered by their young patients and to be sure they rule out illnesses, genetic factors, and accidental falls and traumas before diagnosing an infant with shaken baby syndrome, as the diagnosis can lead to criminal charges in certain cases.
Additional Facts About Baby Shaken Syndrome
The injuries suffered from shaken baby syndrome include subdural hematoma or bleeding in the brain as well as retinal hemorrhage or bleeding behind the eyes, and cerebral edema or swelling of the brain. There may also be other, secondary injuries caused by this shaking. The diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome is inferred by physicians when the injuries of the infant are consistent with their medical understanding of shaken baby syndrome and when these injuries cannot be explained by other causes such as outside trauma, illness, accident or disease.
Shaken baby syndrome can be fatal or the injuries may lead to lifelong trauma and disability due to brain damage. Some criminal charges have been filed after a diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome, although the cases are often difficult to prove because of the lack of external trauma and other factors that can be shown in court and outside of a medical setting.
Because of the difficulty of actually proving shaken baby syndrome, it is a controversial diagnosis and criminal cases involving this condition have made headlines around the world. At the same time, physicians and caregivers need to be vigilant when it comes to the health and safety of infants in their care, and need to be aware of obvious signs of abuse including shaken baby syndrome. Consider some surprising facts and statistics about shaken baby syndrome and how it’s diagnosed, treated, and considered in the courts.