Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Safety & Prevention

Shaken Baby Syndrome: Protect Your Infant from Abusive Head Trauma

Abusive Head Trauma: How to Protect Your Baby Abusive Head Trauma: How to Protect Your Baby

One of the skills all parents and caregivers need to learn is how to cope with stress. This is especially important when there seems to be no end to a baby's crying. Reacting impulsively in anger or frustration can be harmful or deadly.

Babies are not yet able to fully support their heavy heads. Because of this, violent and forceful shaking or impact causes a baby's brain to be injured. This is called abusive head trauma. Abusive head trauma, including shaken baby syndrome, is a serious type of head injury. It is a form of child abuse.

Too often, abusive head trauma leads to the death of a baby. It also can lead to:

When your baby cries, take a break

Crying is the only way babies know how to express their needs. Parents and caregivers need to know that crying does not mean babies dislike them.

Babies usually cry when they need something. They may be hungry or tired. They may be cold or hot or need their diapers changed. However, sometimes babies cry for no clear reason. Healthy babies, even those who are well cared for and loved, may cry for as long as 1 to 2 hours.

When you have tried to calm your crying baby but nothing seems to work, you may need to take a moment for yourself. Crying can be tough to handle, especially if you are physically tired and mentally exhausted.

If you feel like you are getting angry and might lose control, try the following:

  • Take a deep breath and count to 10.

  • Place your baby in a safe place, such as a crib or playpen without blankets and stuffed animals; leave the room and let your baby cry alone for about 10 to 15 minutes.

  • While your baby is in a safe place, consider some actions that may help calm you down. For example:

    • Listen to music for a few minutes.

    • Call a friend or family member for for emotional support.

    • Do simple household chores, such as vacuuming or washing the dishes.

  • If you have not calmed after 10 to 15 minutes, check on your baby but do not pick up your baby until you feel you have calmed down.

  • When you have calmed down, go back and pick up your baby. If your baby is still crying, try soothing measures again.

  • Call your child's doctor. There may be a medical reason why your baby is crying.

Try to be patient. Keeping your baby safe is the most important thing you can do. It is normal to feel upset, frustrated or even angry, but it is important to keep your behavior under control.

Remember, it is never safe to shake, throw, hit, slam or jerk any child—and it never solves the problem!

What to know when choosing a caregiver

If your children are being cared for by others, take some time to observe how these caregivers interact with your children. Do they enjoy talking or playing with your children? How do they calm a crying baby? An ideal child care center is one that this licensed or certified and has multiple child caregivers present at all times.

Also, remember that young infants who are not yet able to pull to a stand rarely bruise. Even a small bruise could be the first sign of abuse. If a bruise is seen in a young infant, the baby should be checked by a doctor.

Signs and symptoms of abusive head trauma

Victims of abusive head trauma may show one or all of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Irritability

  • Lethargy (trouble staying awake)

  • Trouble breathing

  • Vomiting

  • Seizures

  • Decreased alertness

  • Coma (unable to be awakened)


Hurting a crying baby is never OK. Anyone who cares for your children, including parents, child care providers, boyfriends, girlfriends, older siblings, grandparents and neighbors, should know about the dangers of shaking or striking a baby's head.

More information

Last Updated
Adapted from How to Prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome and Other Forms of Abusive Head Trauma (Copyright © 2020 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
Follow Us