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Prevent Abusive Head Trauma

Abusive head trauma (AHT), which includes shaken baby syndrome, is a severe form of physical child abuse. It results in injury to the brain of a child. AHT is a leading cause of physical child abuse deaths in children under 5 in the U.S. Babies less than 1 year old are at the greatest risk of injury from AHT. AHT can be prevented.

Shaking, hitting, throwing, or dropping babies and toddlers can have dangerous results.

A baby's neck muscles can't support the stress of shaking. When the baby is shaken, its head moves in a sudden whiplash motion that can cause bleeding inside the head and increased pressure on the brain.

Shaking, hitting, throwing, or dropping baby or child can cause irreversible brain damage, learning disabilities, intellectual disability, blindness, deafness, seizures, paralysis or death. Babies who survive severe shaking will likely need lifelong medical care. Nearly all victims of AHT suffer serious, long-term health problems.

Many new parents and caregivers may not understand that crying is the baby's only way to communicate, and that some babies cry more than others. Babies will cry because of hunger, the need to suck, pain from illness, teething or earache, colic, the need for comfort or cuddling, or the need for rest. Parents who understand that babies cry often may be less likely to feel stressed to the point that they shake their baby out of frustration and anger.

Here are a few tips to remember when your baby just won't seem to stop crying:

  • Understand that a baby's crying is worse in the first few months of life. It will get better as the child grows.

  • Understand that healthy babies may cry for as long as 1 to 2 hours. Even those who are well cared for and loved.

  • Make sure the baby is fed and dry.

  • Feed the baby slowly.

  • Burp the baby often.

  • Sing or talk softly to your baby.

  • Rock the baby gently or go for a walk.

  • Hold your baby against your bare skin (skin-to-skin).

  • Take the baby for a ride in a stroller or car.

  • Try a wind-up infant swing.

  • If your baby won’t stop crying, check for signs of illness. Call your baby's healthcare provider if you think your baby is sick.

  • If you're feeling overly tense or angry and you think you may shake, throw, or hit your baby, lay them in a safe place such as the crib and walk away for a short break. Call a friend or a family member and try to get help taking care of your baby. Sometimes being the primary caregiver can be overwhelming. Asking for help is the best thing to do for both you and your baby.

  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk with your baby’s healthcare provider about childcare options, counseling, or other resources that can help.

  • Call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-422-4453. A trained counselor can help you deal with your frustration, so you don’t hurt your baby.

  • Never leave your baby alone with a person who is easily irritated, or has a temper or a history of violence.

These tips should be also shared with all of your child's caregivers because babysitters and partners of the parent often feel frustrated by persistent crying. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Dan Brennan MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.