The shaken baby syndrome

The happy and proud parent rocks the baby, throws her in the air, sometimes may even shake her, and the little one screams. Is she happy or frightened?

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Many daddies and even mommies and grandparents have the habit of throwing babies into the air thinking that the babies are enjoying it. The old belief is that babies scream when they are happy and excited. This habit may cause severe damage, just like another, even worse scenario: when the angry parent shakes the fussy, desperately crying “bad” baby. None of these parents and grandparents may have heard that as a result of these actions, they may induce the shaken baby syndrome in the infant. The problem was recognized after MR (magnetic resonance) examinations became widespread.

What is the syndrome about? The head-body ratio of babies under one year of age is different from that of older children and adults. Babies’ heads are big and heavy compared to the rest of their bodies, and neck muscles can’t hold the head properly when the head is lifted. When somebody shakes the baby, the momentum makes the head jolt back and forth. The baby’s skull bones at this age are not entirely fused, and, as the baby’s head is shaking, the brain is also bouncing back and forth, hitting the walls of the skull. As a result, blood vessels may rupture and bleeding may occur. Shaking may cause permanent damage in the mental and physical development of the baby, and it may affect her eyesight too; in extreme cases, it may cause the baby’s death.

In most cases there aren’t many visible, worrying symptoms except the baby seeming slightly tired and sleeping more than usual. In some cases, she may throw up or may have convulsions. However, during the next few days, a severe disturbance of consciousness and finally coma may occur. The first conspicuous sign may be that the fontanel or “soft spot” gradually protrudes – at this point the baby is in a life threatening state. Most parents will realize only now that there is something seriously wrong, and will take the baby to the hospital. As a typical symptom, blood at the eye-ground will be detected as a probable sign of the syndrome.

The biggest problem is that many parents have no clue how much damage they may cause with a single rough movement; sometimes they may even believe the baby is enjoying rough play. Many doctors and nurses today take every chance to inform parents and caregivers about this problem. If the baby happens to be shaken and the family notices the slightest abnormality, they should take the baby to the hospital at once, and they mustn’t conceal what happened. Immediate medical treatment can diminish the damage that may have occurred.

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