Abusive head trauma is a form of physical abuse that can occur when an infant or young child is violently shaken and/or slammed. It is sometimes called “Shaken Baby Syndrome.” This type of trauma does not result from tossing or bouncing an infant in play or jiggling an infant awake.
The traumatic event may last only a few seconds, but it can cause long-term damage, including severe brain injury, permanent disability and even death. Head trauma is the leading cause of disability and death among abused infants and children. Approximately 50% of brain injuries in children under one year of age are inflicted and not accidental.
Abusive head trauma is the leading cause of physical abuse deaths in children under age five. It is associated with severe long-lasting health problems and developmental disabilities, including motor deficits, visual impairment, speech and cognitive deficits, seizures and behavioral disorders that last long after the injury.
Abusive head trauma can be prevented through education and awareness. It is most commonly triggered by inconsolable crying. Many parents and caregivers do not realize the danger of shaking or slamming a child. Prevention efforts focus on education about normal crying patterns, ways to soothe a crying baby and the importance of taking a short break when frustrated.
It is also critical that parents and caregivers watch for sentinel injuries, small bruises or injuries appearing on infants who are not mobile. Though common for walking children, these types of minor injuries should not be present in infants who are not yet able to walk or crawl. It is said that, "Babies who are not cruising should not be bruising." Sentinel injuries require medical evaluation as they are early warning signs that, when recognized, can prevent more severe injuries.
The Prevention Board makes abusive head trauma prevention programming and materials available to healthcare and community-based settings. Babies Cry, Be Prepared is a free publication which provides information about self-care and infant care during periods of crying. It is available in English, Spanish and Hmong.
Implementation of evidence-informed abusive head trauma prevention programming is supported through the Prevention Board's competitive grant making process. The Period of PURPLE Crying®, is offered in multiple doses and provides valuable information on normal crying patterns and the dangers of shaking a baby. It is designed to build parental awareness and strategies for addressing a developmental stage that is not widely understood.
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