Never shake a baby!

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Never shoot a baby. Never stab a baby. Pretty obvious statements, right? But many people who would never dream of deploying lethal weapons against a small child are surprised to find facing a parent's worst nightmare when they use a not-so-obvious weapon: their own hands!

Never shake a baby! Shaking a baby or young child can kill. Most victims are under one year, but there have been cases of children as old as five being injured or killed by shaking. Shaken Baby Syndrome is the collection of signs and symptoms resulting from the violent shaking of an infant or small child. It is a form of child abuse. In America every year treatment is necessary for an estimated 1,200 - 1,400 children. Of these tiny victims, 25 -30 percent die as a result of their injuries. The rest will have lifelong complications. It is likely that many more babies suffer from the effects of SBS, yet no one knows because SBS victims rarely have any external evidence of trauma.

Sometimes babies are shaken as part of an ongoing pattern of child abuse, but all too often a parent or caretaker just simply becomes frustrated by the child's crying and responds violently. The same people who know they should not hit or slap a young child, say they didn't know shaking would hurt the baby.

Vigorous shaking repeatedly pitches the brain in different directions. A young child's neck muscles are underdeveloped and their brain tissue is exceptionally fragile. Their small size further adds to the risk of injury. According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, "whereas an adult's head accounts for approximately 10 percent of their body weight, a baby's head is disproportionately large and accounts for about 25 percent of body weight." Therefore, it is easier to inflict damage to the brain.

The sudden motion of shaking can cause parts of the brain to pull away, tearing brain cells and blood vessels. A typical angry shaking repeats the violent motion many times in succession. In addition, the force is multiplied 5 to 10 times more than if a child had simply tripped and fallen. Often, the shaking is followed by slamming the baby down onto the crib or elsewhere (Shaken Impact Syndrome.) The deceleration impact adds further injuries.

In fact, the majority of shaken baby crimes are committed by males with a relationship to the child's mother. Biological fathers and mothers' boyfriends out number babysitters, child care providers and mothers. Typically, a person has been left alone to care for the child. When the child cries, the person is unable to comfort the baby, becomes stressed, angry and frustrated and shakes the baby. It works. The baby stops crying.

If the child doesn't die immediately, it usually becomes unconscious or lethargic. The baby may experience convulsions, vomiting and retinal hemorrhages (blood in the eyes). Sometimes there are no visible signs, and for many years, physicians failed to diagnose Shaken Baby Syndrome or attributed the injuries to other causes.
With greater awareness of the problem have come more prevention resources to help parents and other caretakers learn how to deal with the frustrations of caring for young children. The Air Force is dedicated to providing these parents resources to all military members and their dependents.

At Goodfellow and most other military installations, the Family Advocacy New Parent Support Program can provide information and support for new and expectant parents.

For information about Shaken Baby Syndrome, parenting tips, choosing a babysitter, or child abuse prevention, call Family Advocacy at 654-3122, or come by our office (Bldg. 1007) located beside the 17th Medical Group building. We want to be your partner in raising beautiful, healthy children!