Shaken Baby Impact Syndrome

What is SBIS?

SBIS is the medical term used to describe the violent shaking of an infant/baby/child and the resulting injury sustained by that brief moment of violence. This form of child abuse can result in serious brain injury, including seizures, mental retardation and blindness.

SBIS was first described in 1974 and can be lethal. Approximately one in four babies (25%) with SBIS dies from the injuries. Those who survive may suffer blindness caused by bleeding around the brain and eyes, or disabling brain damage, mental retardation (mild to severe) paralysis, seizure disorders, speech and learning disabilities, neck and back damage, and dislocated bones. The majority of perpetrators of SBIS are males, approximately 22 years of age.

  • SBIS is the medical term used to describe the results of violently shaking an infant.
  • Shaking is of such force that an independent observer would recognize the act as dangerous.
  • SBIS most often occurs when a child receives numerous rapid shakes. The actual head impact is not necessary but does frequently occur.
  • Why do parents and caregivers shake babies?
  • A caregiver momentarily succumbs to the frustration of responding to a crying baby by shaking the baby.
  • SBIS usually happens when the caregiver is angry and loses control.
  • Caregivers may be inadequately prepared for parenting.
  • Parents may be under stress and cannot deal with the frustrations of parenting.
  • The caregiver personalizes the infant’s crying as inadequate caregiving

What to do when a baby won’t stop crying?

The primary reason for shaking a baby is a moment of frustration when a baby is inconsolable.

  • Check for the baby’s basic needs and make him comfortable.
  • Try feeding or burping the baby.
  • If breastfeeding, avoid eating onions, beans, coffee, cola and tea.
  • Check for signs of illness, fever and swollen gums and contact the pediatrician immediately.
  • Soothe the baby by gently rubbing his back.
  • Swaddle the baby (wrap in a blanket) and walk or rock him gently.
  • Offer a pacifier.
  • Lower any surrounding noise or lights.
  • Offer the baby a noisy toy shake or rattle it.
  • Put the baby in a soft front carrier close to your body and breathe slowly. The baby may feel your calmness and become quiet.
  • Lie the baby tummy down on your lap and gently rub and pat his back.
  • Massage the baby’s body and limbs gently.
  • Rock, walk or dance with the baby.
  • Gently make soft circles on his face.
  • Sing or talk to the baby using soft soothing tones.
  • Take the baby for a ride in the car or walk in the stroller.
  • Record the sound of the hairdryer or vacuum cleaner and play it for your baby.
  • Call a friend or relative that you trust to take over for a while, then get away, get some rest and take care of your self.
  • If you start to feel angry and frustrated put the baby in a crib or playpen, close the door and go into another room. Check the baby every ten minutes. Give yourself a break.
  • Count to 10 to calm down. If necessary, count again!
Remember YOU are the adult.

Symptoms of SBIS

Here is what to look for if you suspect a baby has been shaken.

  • The baby’s head is turned to one side
  • Unable to turn or lift head
  • Pinpointed, dilated or unequal size pupils
  • Blood pooling in eyes/detached retinal damage (not visible to the naked eye but used as a diagnostic tool)
  • Pupils unresponsive to light
  • Bulging or spongy forehead
  • No smiling or vocalization
  • Poor sucking or swallowing
  • Rigidity
  • Semi-consciousness
  • Decreased muscle tone
  • Difficult breathing
  • Seizures or spasms
  • Swollen head (may appear later)
  • Poor feeding/eating
  • Irritability
  • Cardiopulmonary arrest
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Failure to thrive
  • Coma
  • Pale or blue-ish skin

Diagnosis of SBIS may often be confirmed with the aid of an MRI, or CT scan, however, retinal scans are one of the better diagnostic tools. Many incidents of SBIS are not reported out of fear. It is important to seek immediate and early medical attention so that serious complications and even death can be avoided.