What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is a tragic problem where ~1,000 to 3,000 babies are injured by their caregivers every year (25% die and 80% of the survivors are permanently brain damaged).

What Causes Shaken Baby Syndrome?

The #1 trigger and most common cause of shaken baby syndrome is a crying baby (and the violent motion that a frustrated parent uses to shake the baby's head, usually whipping it roughly 1-2 feet back and forth).

I am happy to report that over the past 15 years, millions of parents have been taught the Happiest Baby 5 S’s to imitate the baby's soothing womb rhythms to turn on the Calming Reflex, and quickly soothe their baby's crying.

Can other types of movement cause Shaken Baby Syndrome?

The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome reports that SBS is not caused by "tossing a baby in the air, jogging with your baby, or driving over bumps in your car.” They further state:

Accidental falls, even down stairways, are not generally the cause of brain injuries in infants. Household falls from furniture or down stairs most commonly result in minor trauma. High-velocity impact injuries, falls from extreme heights or falls onto extremely hard surfaces provide the opportunities for more severe injuries, like those seen in SBS injuries.

Signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Signs and symptoms of shaken baby syndrome can vary depending on the extremity, but can include:

  • Extreme fussiness and irritability from your baby
  • Altered levels of consciousness
  • Drowsiness or difficulty staying awake accompanied by fussiness
  • Decreased appetite or vomiting
  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Dilated pupils that do not respond to light
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Coma or paralysis

Signs of shaken baby syndrome usually appear immediately and can peak within 4-6 hours. 

Calming Head Jiggle vs Shaken Baby Syndrome

Minor motion—like the 5 S’s swinging (or, as I describe it the Jell-O head jiggle)—is perfectly safe. For many babies, jiggly motion is the key to calming (quick little movements, 1-2 inches back and forth, like a bobble head). The 5 S’s are so effective for soothing, they even help many colicky babies!

In fact, not only are the 5 S's safe…they are much better than safe! They help prevent shaken baby syndrome by giving parents the tools to calm persistent crying, so they don’t get so frustrated that they lose their tempers and accidentally injure the baby. For that reason, the 5 S's are taught in university hospitals and public health programs—in over 20 nations—to help support parents...and to reduce shaken baby syndrome.

Prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome

In addition to helping parents calm crying by teaching them the 5 S's, another way that Happiest Baby hopes to prevent shaken baby syndrome is with SNOO. This  baby bed was designed specifically to automatically calm crying by giving babies three of the S’s (swaddling, sound and swinging). And parents can rest assured that the movements of SNOO were designed with a baby's safety in mind. 

In fact, the tiny movement of the bed platform at SNOO’s top level sways less than 1/4 inch—back and forth—to each side.That's much less than the baby's head moves in the womb when a mom is hustling up the stairs or bobbing around in an exercise class. And, SNOO greatly increases baby safety by preventing accidental rolling to the stomach and improving infant sleep, so parents are less tempted to fall asleep with their baby sleep in an unsafe location (like on a sofa, arm chair or adult bed).

Bottom line: SNOO's motion can turn on the calming reflex and reduce infant crying. Our deepest hope is that—in that pivotal moment when a baby is crying inconsolably—we may be able to prevent the tragedy of shaken baby syndrome if a tired/frustrated caregiver chooses to use SNOO to help calm the baby...versus lashing out.

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.