Shaken Baby Syndrome Has New Name, Rate May Be Rising
Last April, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urged doctors to stop using the term “shaken baby syndrome” in favor of the more scientific comprehensive diagnosis “abusive head trauma.” Unfortunately, doctors have to use one of these diagnoses more often as the rate of infant child abuse is rising. The US economic downturn is being blamed for the increase.
Shaken baby syndrome is a serious brain injury that occurs when an infant or toddler is forcefully shaken. Babies have weak neck muscles and the head trauma from shaking can cause bruising, swelling and bleeding which destroys a child’s brain cells and prevents the brain from getting enough oxygen, resulting in permanent brain damage or death. The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome states that about 1200 to 1400 US children are injured or killed by shaking each year.
Factors that increase the risk of inflicting child abuse, including shaken baby syndrome, include stress, unstable family situations, and depression, all of which could be directly related to today’s poor economy. Other risk factors include unrealistic expectations of babies, domestic violence (current or history), and alcohol or substance abuse. Men are more likely to inflict shaken baby syndrome than are women.
According to a study co-written by Rachel Berger, a child abuse specialist at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, abusive head trauma cases have increased over the last five years in four cities: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Seattle, and Columbus (OH). Over 500 cases were reviewed and two-thirds of the cases involved children under the age of one. Sixteen percent died.
The US Census Bureau states that the number of people covered by Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled, has steadily increased during the recession. An increase in Medicaid enrollment correlates with an increase in the unemployment rate, which is currently at 9.7%. The study found that nearly 90% of cases were children covered by Medicaid.
Parents who are having trouble managing emotions around infants and children or cannot handle the stress of parenthood are urged to seek help before succumbing to violent actions against their baby. Remember that it only takes a few seconds of shaking to cause irreversible brain damage. Your child’s doctor can help with a referral to a counselor or other mental health professional. If other people help take care of your child, such as a hired caregiver, sibling or grandparent, make sure they also know the dangers of shaken baby syndrome.