Shaken Baby Syndrome (cont.)
What to do if you suspect shaken baby syndrome
- Callor other emergency services immediately if a child is unconscious, is having difficulty breathing, or is in immediate danger of further abuse. The operator will guide you through resuscitation procedures if they are needed.
- If you suspect child abuse and the child is not in immediate danger, contact your local child protective services or police. Do not confront the suspected abuser. This may cause more harm to the child. Another resource is ChildHelp, a nonprofit agency that can provide telephone numbers and information about how to report suspected or observed child abuse or neglect. The national Child Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). The U.S. Administration of Children and Families, under the Department of Health and Human Services, has established a Child Welfare Information Gateway. The Gateway helps states provide child welfare services that are designed to protect children and strengthen families. For more information, see the Other Places to Get Help section of this topic.
Keep in mind that the types of falls that occur during normal play, from an infant swing, from a low surface such as an adult bed or couch, or even down stairs, will not cause shaken baby syndrome. It is the violent shaking, throwing, or slamming of a child that results in this type of injury. Although caregivers often first state that these types of scenarios have caused a child's injuries, most later confess to having shaken or slammed a baby against an object.
Help prevent shaken baby syndrome
- Never shake a baby. Also, do not slap or hit a child of any age on the face or head. A child's brain is very delicate. Shaking, slapping, or hitting a child can cause serious harm, even though it may not leave any obvious sign of injury.
- Learn about normal child development and behavior so that your expectations of your children are realistic. For example, learn some safe ways to calm a crying child. Many quality parenting courses are available that can help you learn how to effectively manage the demands and responsibilities of caring for children. All parents and caregivers need to know how to react effectively to difficult behavior without resorting to violence or corporal punishment. These classes are especially valuable if you have a history of being abused. Talk to your doctor or call your local hospital to find classes in your community.
- Learn stress-relief and other healthy coping strategies. Taking care of yourself—by staying active, eating well, and getting rest—can help keep your stress level down. Many other strategies may also help depending on your background and interests. For example, you may find that self-help books, support groups, religious groups, or exercise classes such as yoga are helpful. Anger management classes or professional counseling may sometimes also help. For more information, see the topic Stress Management.
- Screen your potential child care providers to find out their child care skills and abilities.
- Get a police background check on a prospective child care provider.
- Choose a child care center that has a good reputation and that is licensed in your state.
- Visit your child's caregiver without warning to get an idea of what kind of care is given when an observation is not expected.
- Seek financial assistance and support for child care if needed. This is especially important for young or single mothers. Contact your doctor or local hospital for community groups that can help you.
- Take a break when you are feeling overwhelmed. Ask a friend, relative, or neighbor if they would be willing to help. Also, find out if your community offers respite care services, which provide occasional care for a family member. Have a list ready with names and numbers that you can call. Try planning ahead, such as scheduling this care on a weekly basis.
- Be an advocate for inexperienced and overwhelmed parents. Child abuse becomes less likely if parents or caregivers feel supported. Little things can help, such as offering to bring dinner for overtired parents when you see a need. On a larger scale, you may encourage community leaders to offer parenting classes. Also, support individuals or groups that help parents who are at risk of abusing their children.
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