Shaking babies cause brain damage, blindness, paediatrician warns parents

HEALTHDIGEST– A paediatrician, Dr. Faidat Yusuf, has warned parents and caregivers against shaking babies below two years vigorously while playing with them, noting that doing so can result in permanent brain damage, blindness, and movement disorder.

According to the expert, shaking children with force can lead to ‘shaken baby syndrome’ – a serious neurological or brain injury that occurs as a result of shaking an infant or toddler.

Dr. Yusuf who works at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital explained that the bones in the head of babies are soft, adding that the neck muscles supporting the head are also weak.

She stated that when an infant is, therefore, forcefully shaken, trauma to the brain can occur.

She said this could lead to an injury to both the neck and head, noting that rocking or petting a child doesn’t qualify as vigorous or forceful shaking.

Speaking with PUNCH , Dr. Yusuf said, “Shaken baby syndrome is a serious neurological or brain injury that occurs as a result of shaking an infant or a toddler which results in trauma to the brain. Usually, the major features that would be seen in the child include things like the presence of retinal haemorrhage, which is bleeding into the retina, and then there could be subdural haemorrhage that is bleeding into the brain, and also, features of encephalopathy, which is damage to the brain will be seen.”

When asked about the symptoms a baby could present, the paediatrician said, “The symptoms one can see in a baby that would make you suspect shaken baby syndrome include excessive sleepiness or drowsiness, the baby might be crying excessively or be excessively irritable, there might be evidence of swelling in different parts of the head or swelling in a particular part of the head.The baby could also have abnormal body movement or convulsion which would point to the fact that there is neurologic damage.”

She stated that the perpetrator of this type of injury is usually the caregiver of the child, which is either the mother or the father, adding that the injury often occurs as a result of frustration.

Dr. Yusuf further noted that usually, unmanaged postpartum depression could lead to frustration from taking care of a child and the mother could shake the child forcefully which can result in shaken baby syndrome.

Speaking on how the syndrome is diagnosed and treated, Dr. Yusuf however said, “It is usually diagnosed by doing a brain CT in which you could see evidence of damage to the brain. Sometimes there is evidence of brain swelling and there might be evidence of infraction or damage to certain parts of the brain as well as possible evidence of bleeding into the brain. Sometimes there’s even evidence of skull fracture. And then also the history and symptoms a child has would guide you towards making the diagnosis,” she added.

The child care expert, however, noted that there are no specific treatments for shaken baby syndrome, stressing that the most important thing is prevention.

She said, “In terms of treatments, there are no specific treatments for shaken baby syndrome. Usually, it is a form of symptomatic management. If there is any evidence of a skull fracture you need to manage that, if there is evidence of bleeding to the brain then you might need to do surgery to decompress and try to relieve the haemorrhage that the child is having. If the child is having evidence of brain swelling, there are certain medications that can be given or ways to support the child’s breathing and respiration to reduce the brain damage that the child has.”

According to her, some children that suffer from the syndrome could die, while some might suffer permanent neurologic damage which could result in future blindness in the child.

She further explained that in the long term, the child could also suffer cerebral palsy which is a disorder of movement, adding that the child could also have speech problems later on in life.

“For some children, it might result in some form of mental retardation later in life. The child could have permanent neurological problems. So, it is the symptom that the child presents with that will determine the management of the long-term complications. So those that present with cerebral palsy might need physiotherapy, children that present with blindness might need to go to special schools to help with that, children with hearing problems might need hearing aids, and so on.”