Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) / Abusive Head Trauma (AHT)

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) or Abusive Head Trauma (AHT) is caused by vigorous shaking of an infant or young child by the arms, legs, chest or shoulders. Forceful shaking can result in brain damage leading to intellectual disability, speech and learning disabilities, paralysis, seizures, hearing loss and even death. It may cause bleeding around the brain and eyes, resulting in blindness. A baby’s head and neck are especially vulnerable to injury because the head is so large and the neck muscles are still weak. In addition, the baby’s brain and blood vessels are very fragile and easily damaged by whiplash motions, such as shaking, jerking and jolting. Shaken baby syndrome has been identified by other names such as abusive head trauma, shaken brain trauma, pediatric traumatic brain injury, whiplash shaken infant syndrome and shaken impact syndrome.

Shaken Baby Syndrome is the most common cause of mortality and accounts for the most long-term disability in infants and young children due to physical abuse. The true incidence of SBS is not known, but estimates range from an annual figure as low as 600 cases per year in the United States to as high as 1400. One shaken baby in four dies as a result of this abuse. Head trauma is the most frequent cause of permanent damage or death among abused infants and children, and shaking accounts for a significant number of those cases. Some studies estimate that 15 percent of children’s deaths are due to battering or shaking and an additional 15 percent are possible cases of shaking. The victims of shaken baby syndrome range in age from a few days to five years but most often involve children younger than 2 years of age.