Shaken Baby Syndrome occurs when a caretaker violently shakes a baby, and leads to brain bruising, swelling, and/or hemorrhaging. Retinal hemorrhaging (bleeding) and fractured bones are also often the result of such violent shaking. A recent study indicates that men and women are equally as likely to shake a baby, which is contrary to popular belief.
The research study was conducted by Dr. Debra Esernio-Jessen, who is the medical director of the UF Child Protection Team. When she conducted her research, Esernio-Jenssen was the medical director of a child protection consultation team, located at a New York children’s hospital. She analyzed the abusive head trauma cases over the period of a decade in a New York health system. There were 34 cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome during that time period, six of which resulted in a child’s death. Victims of Shaken Baby Syndrome in this study ranged from one month of age to nearly three years old.
The author asserts violently shaking a baby is similar to if the baby were in a major car accident. Shaken Baby Syndrome can cause brain bleeding, retinal bleeding, and may cause a baby’s breathing or heartbeat to cease. Additionally, if a baby survives, he or she may have severe, long-term neurological damage.
Essermio-Jenssen asserts that past research has typically linked men to abusive head trauma. However, in her study, she discovered that half of the perpetrators who shook a baby were women. She stated, “Mothers for centuries, probably, have been picking up and shaking infants. Although males are often more represented (in criminal cases), when you take anonymous phone calls, mothers say they shake their kids to get them to stop crying. If you do shake a baby hard enough, they do go to sleep; they become unconscious.”
While Esernio-Jenssen found that an equal number of male and female perpetrators shook their babies, she also found some differences between male and female perpetrators. Specifically, she discovered that male perpetrators tended to cause more severe damage to an infant as a result of shaking than did female perpetrators. Babies shaken by males were more likely to have brain and retinal hemorrhaging, require the care of neurosurgeons, suffer from cardiopulmonary arrest, and to have worse outcomes than babies shaken by females. Furthermore, all six deaths were caused by male perpetrators.
Another difference Essernio-Jenssen found among males and females who shook their babies was that men tended to confess more often than women did. While 15 of the 17 male perpetrators confessed to shaking their babies, only three of the 17 female perpetrators did so. She also discovered that women were less likely to be prosecuted for shaking a baby than men were.
Finally, Essernio-Jenssen found women who shook their children had a median age of 34 years while men who shook their babies had a median age of 27.
Given the severe damage shaking a baby can cause to a child’s brain, eyes, heart, and bones, it is important to remember never to shake a baby. Many parents and caretakers shake their babies when they are frustrated or angry and want their babies to stop crying. Instead of shaking a child to get him or her to stop sobbing, try some other techniques for soothing babies.
Take your baby for a car ride or for a walk outside. Alternatively, rock your baby in a rocking chair. Another suggestion for soothing a baby is to talk or sing to him or her in a soft, soothing voice. Your baby might also enjoy some soft, relaxing music.
Try lowering the sounds and lights in the environment, such as the radio, television, lamps, or overhead lights. Sometimes, distracting your baby with a noisy toy, like a rattle might help soothe him or her.
Dr. Phil asserts, “shhh-ing,” your baby initiates the calming reflex in him or her. He asserts the “shhh,” sound mimics the sound a baby hears while he or she is in the uterus. Thus, this sound can calm your infant when he or she is crying. Dr. Phil suggests making the, “shh,” sound two to four inches from your baby’s ear. It is important to note that your, “shh,” sound needs to be as loud as your baby’s cries or he or she will not be able to hear it.
Another suggestion Dr. Phil makes is to lay your infant on his or her side or stomach when he or she cries. Laying your infant on his or her side or stomach triggers the calming reflex because these positions mimic the position your baby was in while he or she was in the uterus. When an infant lays on his or her back, he or she may feel as if he or she is falling, which can make your baby feel insecure. It is important to remember, however, that a baby should always sleep on his or her back and not on his or her side or stomach. Laying your infant on his or her side or stomach should only be done to calm your infant.
If you find yourself getting very frustrated or angry when trying to get your infant to stop crying, do not shake him or her. Instead, call a trusted friend, family member, or baby-sitter and ask him or her to come over for a while to watch your baby while you take some time to calm down.
If you would like to learn more about the study discussed in this article, you may visit the journal Pediatrics. To learn more about Shaken Baby Syndrome, you may visit the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Psych Central: Women Just as Likely as Men to Shake a Baby:
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: NINDS Shaken Baby Syndrome Information Page:
Dr. Phil: Parenting: Five Techniques to Calm a Crying Baby: