Causes and risk factors: Shaken baby syndrome

Causes

Babies have weak neck muscles and often struggle to support their heavy heads. If a baby is forcefully shaken, his or her fragile brain moves back and forth inside the skull. This causes bruising, swelling and bleeding.

Shaken baby syndrome usually occurs when a parent or caregiver severely shakes a baby or toddler due to frustration or anger often because the child won’t stop crying.

Shaken baby syndrome isn’t usually caused by bouncing a child on your knee, minor falls or even rough play.

Risk factors

The following things may make parents or caregivers more likely to forcefully shake a baby and cause shaken baby syndrome:

  • Unrealistic expectations of babies

  • Young or single parenthood

  • Stress

  • Domestic violence

  • Alcohol or substance abuse

  • Unstable family situations

  • Depression

  • A history of mistreatment as a child