Who is more likely to shake a baby?

A new study which examined 48 cases of abusive head trauma in infants cared for at an east coast hospital to be published in the April 2011 edition of Pediatrics found that…

  • Five percent of mothers reported shaking as a way to discipline or stop a baby from crying
  • Male caregivers are more frequently identified as the perpetrators of abusive head trauma in children
  • Of the cases with an identified perpetrator, half were male, half female
  • Female perpetrators were older (median age 34 years) compared to the male perpetrators (median age 27 years)
  • Children injured by males had more severe injuries and worse clinical outcomes, and all six fatalities in the study were committed by male perpetrators.
  • Male perpetrators were more likely to confess to the abuse. They were also more likely to be convicted than female perpetrators.
  • The study findings showed that boys were more likely to suffer head trauma injuries at the hands of male and female caregivers.

Additional research is needed to determine if the differences in injuries are due to gender or to the physical size of the perpetrator. Such studies, say researchers, may also help determine if gender bias truly exists in criminal prosecutions.

According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome (NCSBS), each year over 300 babies in the United States die of their injuries. Of those who survive, 80% suffer permanent damage such as cerebral palsy, impaired motor or cognitive skills.

It is hard to fathom how anyone could become so angry or irritated at a baby.

Medical experts, according to a recent story in the New York Times magazine say that clinical observations show that it is possible for a child to suffer a brain injury without losing consciousness right away.

Those claims may make it harder to know who, ultimately, was responsible for the abuse.

Say the baby sustains a subdural hematoma from a shaking incident, but does not lose consciousness immediately after. The symptoms that follow — such as acting agitated, lethargic, or refusing food –could be easily attributed to teething, growth spurts, or a cold or other illness.

Those symptoms could be present for hours or days following the injury, according to medical experts. So when the baby does lose consciousness and the situation becomes critical, the baby could be under the care of someone who did not cause the injury.

Any parent who suspects that a baby has been shaken– or is just not acting normally –should not hesitate to seek immediate medical attention. Don’t assume that the baby will recover with time.

Here is a short Phoenix Children’s Hospital video on what to do for anyone caring for a young child who feels increasing feelings of frustration as well as a list from the NCSBS of the common symptoms of shaken baby syndrome.

Common symptoms of shaken baby syndrome:

  • Lethargy / decreased muscle tone
  • Extreme irritability
  • Decreased appetite, poor feeding or vomiting for no apparent reason
  • Grab-type bruises on arms or chest are rare
  • No smiling or vocalization
  • Poor sucking or swallowing
  • Rigidity or posturing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Head or forehead appears larger than usual or soft-spot on head appears to be bulging
  • Inability to lift head
  • Inability of eyes to focus or track movement or unequal size of pupils
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