Preventing The Unthinkable: Shaken Baby Syndrome

This article is brought to us by our partners at The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County. Written By Kelley Parris, Executive Director, The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County

crying babyIt’s no secret that parenting can be stressful. Situations like a baby who won’t stop crying can be hard to handle, especially if they’ve tried everything to soothe him or her.

As stress levels rise, parents and caregivers may shake their baby out of frustration, causing permanent injury or death. Shaking an infant or young child – even once – can be fatal.

Abusive head trauma, or shaken baby syndrome, is a leading cause of death in young Tampa Bay children. While most parents think that this tragedy could never happen to their family, parents are most often responsible for causing injury or death from shaking a baby.

Often, the parent or caregiver does not mean to cause abusive head trauma or shaken baby syndrome. The parent or caregiver lacks the knowledge or skills to cope with a stressful situation.

Talk to your spouses, family members and the baby’s caregivers about safe stress relief techniques to avoid abusive head trauma from happening in your family. Share these tips:

Understand that crying is normal.

  • Crying is how babies communicate. A baby may cry because they are hungry, need a diaper change, are teething, are too hot or too cold, or because they’re simply over-tired. Prepare for and prevent situations that might cause your child to cry.

Attempt to soothe the child.

  • If the obvious solutions do not seem to be working, the next step may be a soothing action such as swaddling in a blanket, slowly rocking in a chair, humming or going for a walk. Provide your child’s caregiver with recommendations of soothing actions that typically work for you.

Remember it’s okay to take a time out.

  • If a child is crying and it becomes frustrating, it’s okay to leave the child safely on their back in the crib and step out of the room to regroup. Stepping away reduces the chance of stress leading to a dangerous situation. Let your caregiver know that if a break is necessary, check on the child every few minutes to ensure they’re still safe.

Make time for self-care.

  • Make time for yourself by getting a trusted caregiver to watch your baby. Be sure your caregiver also understands that crying is normal, and if they need a break it’s ok to put the baby down safely for a few moments.

Check the background of every caregiver.

  • A key to preventing more deaths from abusive head trauma is to check out the background and childcare skills of any caregiver.

Talk about it.

  • Have frank conversations with caregivers, including spouses and immediate family members, about the dangers of head trauma. Watch for signs that show a caregiver may not be prepared to care for a child, such as if they are easily angered or stressed, or seem inattentive. Don’t assume that a caregiver who loves the parent will feel the same way toward the child.

Seek support.

  • Call on community resources for support. Simply dial 2-1-1 for immediate access to expert resources. They can help you with your feelings of stress, anger or loneliness.

For more information on abusive head trauma and how to keep kids safe, visit

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