Is Shaken Baby Syndrome Real?

Shaken baby syndrome is the tragic result of a specific kind of child abuse that has happened all too often over the past few decades. And now some doctors are calling it into question.

Shaken baby syndrome occurs when a baby is shaken violently, causing bleeding and swelling in the brain. It can cause death, blindness, and a host of other horrifying disabilities. According to The New York Times:

Between 1,200 and 1,400 children in the United States sustain head injuries attributed to abuse each year. Most of them are less than a year old. Usually, there’s not much dispute that these children were abused, because doctors discover other signs of mistreatment -- cuts, bruises, burns, fractures -- or a history of such injuries. There is no exact count of shaken-baby prosecutions, but law-enforcement authorities think that there are about 200 a year.


Shaken baby syndrome has specific internal symptoms -- subdural and retinal hemorrhage and brain swelling -- but little proof beyond those symptoms and, obviously, few want to admit they shook a baby. Parents like Erin Whitmer, whose son's babysitter was convicted of shaking him when he was a baby, have lived with the guilt that comes from putting their children in harm's way. On her blog Noah’s Road, Whitmer wrote:

Around 2:30 on April 20, 2009, Noah was shaken. He’d been crying. He needed something that his day care provider wasn’t providing him. Maybe he was tired of lying on the mat where she’d had him. Maybe he needed a hug, a laugh, a kind touch. Instead, she picked him up, her fingers gripping him tightly, feeling the softness of his velour pants and his cotton onesie under her fingers, and she shook him.

Little Noah was 4 months old when this happened and he fell into a coma. Once he came out, he had as many as 32 seizures a day. Now he is 2, and his 1-year-old brother is surpassing him developmentally.

His parents are heartbroken and rightfully so, and Trudy Eliana Muñoz Rueda, Noah's caregiver, has paid the price in jail and through the trial.

But did she actually shake him? That is the question experts are asking now. A growing number of experts say there are infections and bleeding disorders that can also show the same symptoms as shaken baby.

Intuitively, as a parent, I want to believe that. I want to believe that people wouldn't shake a little crying baby so hard that his eyes and brain would bleed. It's too horrifying to even contemplate. Who would do that? It's what we all wonder when we hear these stories, right? Sure, you get mad, you get frustrated, but you don't hurt the crying child.

If there are other explanations and if shaken baby syndrome isn't as common as we think, then there are parents and caregivers who have been falsely convicted, who have spent time in prison for harming a baby -- maybe their baby -- whom they never hurt.

It's tragic. Truly tragic. If science exonerates these people, then what will be done to compensate them for the pain?

Do you think it's possible shaken baby isn't always what happened?


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