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Never shake a baby

Tips for staying in control under pressure.

Caring for a fussy baby can be challenging, especially when the crying goes on and on. Sometimes, no matter what you try, nothing seems to help.

But though you may feel frustrated at times, it's important to stay in control of your temper. And never, ever shake a baby.

Shaking can cause serious damage

Shaken-baby syndrome, a type of abusive head trauma, is a serious form of child abuse, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). It is caused by vigorously shaking a baby by the shoulders, arms or legs, usually out of frustration or anger.

Babies are especially vulnerable to the effects of shaking because:

  • Their heads are relatively large and heavy in proportion to their body size, according to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome.
  • Their neck muscles are weak.
  • Their brains are immature and more easily injured.

The whiplash effect caused by shaking makes a baby's fragile brain bounce back and forth inside the skull. The consequences can be lifelong and life-threatening and may include:

  • Blindness or eye damage.
  • Hearing impairment.
  • Brain damage.
  • Speech disabilities.
  • Developmental delays.
  • Seizures.
  • Behavior disorders. 
  • Death.

Take a break

If your baby cries inconsolably and you feel your frustration mounting, the AAP and other expert sources suggest these coping tips:

  • Make sure your baby's basic needs are met, such as food and a clean diaper. Also check to see that your baby's clothing isn't too warm or too cool. And check for signs of sickness or pain, such as diaper rash.
  • Take a deep breath and count to 10.
  • If the soothing steps you try don't seem to help and you feel overwhelmed, take a time-out and let the baby cry alone. Put the baby in a crib or playpen and leave the room to calm down. Come back in a few minutes and check on the baby.
  • Call someone close to you for emotional support.
  • Phone your child's doctor. There could be a medical reason why your child is crying.

If you know or suspect that your child was shaken, seek medical care immediately. Take your child to the doctor or emergency room without delay. Don't let personal feelings of embarrassment, guilt or fear stand in the way of your child's health or life, the AAP says.

Be prepared to give the doctor complete information. He or she will need the facts in order to treat your child properly.

Reviewed 11/15/2022

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