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What is SBS?

Why does it happen?

by Staff   5.28.2007

Research has shown that crying is the most common trigger to shaking. There are several common characteristics of this early infant crying that can be very frustrating to caregivers.

1) Infants follow a crying pattern that starts at about 2 weeks of age, then increases and peaks during the second month at about 6 weeks. The crying then starts to decrease during the fourth or fifth months of life.
2) Crying bouts may begin or end completely unexpectedly and for no apparent reason. They are not related to dirty diapers, feeding or anything else that is going on in the environment of the infant.
3) No matter what the caregiver does to calm the infant, some crying bouts resist soothing; calming techniques that work one day may not work the next.
4) The infant looks like it is in pain, even when it is not.
5) Crying bouts can average about 35 minutes/bout during these first weeks and months of life and can last as long as 5 hours or more.
6) The crying tends to cluster in the late afternoon and evening, usually when the caregiver is most tired.

Read the segment on Infant Crying from an expert at the Child and Family Research Institute.

Other situations or factors that can be frustrating to caregivers, especially if they are inexperienced or under stress are: feeding difficulties, toilet training, perceived disobedience because of high expectations and feeling bad when advice from well-meaning sources doesn't work. With the other pressures of everyday life, these factors can make an already exhausted caregiver feel extremely stressed and even hopeless.

Who is at Risk for Shaking?
The information below discusses at-risk factors of perpetrators, but it should be noted that this has and can happen to anyone (grandmothers, uncles, godparents, people looking after a child for 10 minutes, etc.).

More than 60% of those that do the shaking are men, either biological fathers, stepfathers, or the mothers' boyfriends. This outnumbers females by a 2.2 to 1 ratio (Starling et al 1995).

The four largest groups of SBS perpetrators are:
biological fathers 37% - 47%
mothers' boyfriends 21% - 41%
female caretakers or babysitters 17.3%
biological mothers <12%
(Starling et al 1995; Iverson 1994; Iverson 1998; Fitzpatrick 1998)

Known risks of becoming a perpetrator are similar to those risks for other types of abusive behaviours. Parents or caregivers who:
live in a lower socioeconomic group
are poorly educated
have unrealistic expectations about child care and child development
have pre-existing personal challenges such as mental illness
have substance abuse issues or poor impulse control
have a previous history of violence
live in isolation or with an unrelated person in the house
lack social support, and
are under the age of 25

Who Does It Happen To?
Over 50% of all SBS victims are under the age of 6 months (Hoffman 2005). These victims range in age from as young as 7 days to as old as 58 months (King et al 2003), and there has also been at least one case of shaken adult syndrome (Pounder 1997). Approximately 60% of victims are male (King et al 2003) and there are known risk factors which include infants who cry for extended periods, pre-term infants, infants from multiple births, and infants who are ill (Fitzpatrick 1998; Conway 1998.)

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