Discharge Instructions: Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome

Shaking a baby, even slightly, is very dangerous. It causes a serious problem called shaken baby syndrome. This can lead to major brain damage and death. When a baby won’t stop crying, it can be frustrating. The stress of caring for a baby, especially if your baby has been sick, puts a strain on the parents. But no matter how fed up, tired, or upset you are, you should NEVER shake your baby.

Side view of baby with head tilted back, showing brain inside. Arrows show head moving back and forth, and injuries at front and back of brain.
If a baby is shaken, the brain can hit the inside of the skull.

Why it’s a problem

When a baby is shaken, the brain moves back and forth inside the skull. Even a little force could cause the brain to hit the inside of the skull. This can result in bleeding and swelling inside the skull. It can lead to permanent brain damage, coma, or death.

If you’re frustrated

If you feel yourself getting fed up, here’s how to cope:

  • Put the baby down in a safe place, even if the baby is crying.

  • Take a deep breath. Walk away. Count to 10. Do whatever else you need to do to calm down.

  • Let others help you take care of the baby. Trade off with your partner, the baby’s grandparents, or other family members.

  • Talk with your baby’s doctor about what’s causing the crying. There could be a health problem or other issue that’s making the baby cry more than normal. The doctor can also give you ideas for how to console your crying baby.

  • If your baby’s doctor believes your baby is just fussy, know that this is not your fault. Your baby will grow out of this period of fussiness. It does not mean the baby does not love you, or that you are not doing a good job.

  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk with your baby’s doctor about child care options, counseling, or other resources that can help.

  • Call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-422-4453. The trained operator can help you deal with your frustration, so you don’t hurt your baby.