Some people should think twice before becoming a parent. According to the Medical Examiner’s Office in Hampton, Virginia, Natalynn Hamrick died on February 3, 2011 from a brain injury after being shaken by her mother. Natalynn was only eleven months old. Her mother, who is now the subject of a criminal investigation, reportedly told the police that she shook Natalynn while trying to put her in the car seat.
Believe it or not, there is an actual syndrome that describes what happened to Natalynn. It’s called Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS, also referred to as “Abusive Head Trauma” ) – “a form of physical child abuse that occurs when an abuser violently shakes an infant or small child, creating a whiplash-type motion that causes acceleration-deceleration injuries.”
The injury usually ensues as a result of very violent shaking, which then produces an accelerated rotational movement of the head. This type of movement may cause the brain to move/rotate within the skull cavity, resulting in trauma to brain tissue. There may be associated bleeding around the brain caused by torn blood vessels. The bleeding usually leads to pulling within the skull (i.e., subdural hematoma), which in turn can cause additional brain injury by exerting pressure on the brain and causing it to move or herniate.
Diagnosing less severe cases of SBS can be difficult because the child may not initially manifest any signs or symptoms. Radiographic studies may be used to diagnose bone fractures or brain bleeds. An important external manifestation could be bleeding in one or both eyes. The pupils may be blown and/or unresponsive. The following are some additional signs and symptoms:
- 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
- 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
Some of the long-term consequences of SBS include:
- Learning disabilities
- Physical disabilities
- Visual disabilities or blindness
- Hearing impairment
- Speech disabilities
- Cerebral Palsy
- Behavior disorders
- Cognitive impairment
Babies are more prone to develop SBS symptoms because their heads are relatively large when compared with the size of an adult head (i.e., on average a baby’s head represents about 25%of his/her total body weight). Additionally, babies have relatively weak neck muscles that we not fully capable of supporting the head. Also, a baby’s brain is not fully developed, making it more susceptible to traumatic injury.
The following prevention measures can easily be implemented to reduce the possibility of SBS injuries:
- NEVER shake a baby or child in play or in anger. Even gentle shaking can become violent shaking when you are angry.
- Do not hold your baby during an argument.
- If you find yourself becoming annoyed or angry with your baby, put him in the crib and leave the room. Try to calm down. Call someone for support.
- Call a friend or relative to come and stay with the child if you feel out of control.
- Contact a local crisis hotline or child abuse hotline for help and guidance.
- Seek the help of a counselor and attend parenting classes.
- Do not ignore the signs if you suspect child abuse in your home or in the home of someone you know.
April is the National Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you suspect that a child is being abused, be proactive and take steps to allow for timely intervention. Share your knowledge about SBS with your friends and family because no child should ever have Natalynn’s fate.