In recent years, we’ve made major strides in protecting our children. We stress the importance of car seats and wearing helmets. We teach them how to swim and the importance of stranger danger.

But children also face dangers at home from abusive adults. Child abuse is the leading cause of trauma-related death at Cook Children’s. From 2005 to 2012, 44 children died from child abuse while being treated at Cook Children’s Medical Center. Most of the children were age 6 months to 3 years and died from abusive head trauma or shaken baby syndrome.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that infants less than 1 year are the most commonly abused age group. Abusive head trauma (AHT) is the leading cause of death in child abuse cases and babies less than 4 months old are at the highest risk.

A shaken baby causes significant harm, ranging from death to long term effects, including: brain damage, blindness, severe learning and behavioral problems, cerebral palsy, seizures, deafness and permanent vegetative state.

The majority of victims are under 6 months old and babies at the highest risk are premature, special needs or believed to be colicky. Frustrated, the adult shakes the baby and that causes the damage.

Why does this happen? It’s mostly physics. Babies are small. Grownups are big. The perpetrator is much bigger and stronger than the infant and babies have heavy heads and weak neck muscles.

Sixty to 70 percent of the perpetrators of shaken baby syndrome are males. But abuse in general is more often than not, the mom. Caregivers experiencing stress of any kind are at higher risk for abuse and there are several causes including unemployment, domestic violence, drug abuse and financial stress.

Often times, the caregivers become frustrated because they have expectations that exceed the child’s developmental level. The caregivers believe the child should be potty trained, should eat or interrupts the adult. The No. 1 trigger for abuse is crying.

  • Make no mistake, Shaken Baby Syndrome or abusive head trauma is a violent act. It’s not caused by:
  • Rough play (bouncing baby on knee, throwing the baby in the air)
  • Short falls (from the couch for example)
  • Bounces (jogging with baby in backpack, bumpy car rides)
  • Sudden stops

The American Academy of Pediatrics says the following: “The act of shaking leading to Shaken Baby Syndrome is so violent that individuals observing it would recognize it as dangerous and likely to kill the child. Shaken Baby Syndrome injuries are the result of violent trauma.”

If you witness, an abused child, call the authorities. If you feel like you aren’t getting the results you would like, continue to call the authorities until action has taken place.

If you are a caregiver and you are feeling frustrated, angry or upset it’s OK to walk away and take a break from the crying. In fact, by doing so you are preventing yourself from losing control and hurting your baby. 

Learn more about this issue at Recognizing the problem and taken the appropriate steps to avoid shaking your baby, can save your child’s life.

Jamye Coffman, M.D., is the Medical Director of the Child Advocacy Resource and Evaluation (CARE) Team at Cook Children’s Healthcare System in Fort Worth, Texas. The  Dr. Coffman is also a member of the Medical Advisory Committee for the Texas Medical Child Abuse Resources and Education System (MEDCARES), within the Texas Department of State Health Services. Dr. Coffman completed medical school at the University of Texas – San Antonio and her residency in Pediatrics at Texas Tech University Health Science Center in Lubbock, Texas. She is board certified in Pediatrics and in Child Abuse Pediatrics.

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