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Shaking a baby, even for an instant, can cause lifelong consequences

For a split second, adults lose their patience when they can’t cope with a crying baby, and the consequences last forever. Shaking an infant or young child – even once – can be fatal.

Each year, several children in the Tampa Bay area die from being shaken violently, or suffer another type of abusive head trauma at the hands of a parent or caregiver.

Most parents think they would never do anything to harm their baby, but most often, it’s parents who are responsible for causing injury or death from shaking a baby. The parent or caregiver does not mean to cause abusive head trauma, but they lack the knowledge or skills to cope with a stressful situation.

Often, a parent or caregiver who is stressed, exhausted or frustrated shakes a baby that can’t be soothed. Crying is how babies communicate and it can indicate a variety of things including hunger, teething, a dirty diaper or discomfort from temperature or sickness. A baby will also cry when overtired.

Prepare for and try to prevent situations that might cause your child to cry, and attempt to soothe your baby. Some movements, sounds and techniques can help soothe a baby, including:

  • Swaddle, cuddle and softly rock the baby.
  • Hold the baby close while walking or swaying.
  • Gently massage the baby’s back, chest or tummy.
  • Sing, hum or talk in a soothing voice.
  • Go for a walk with the stroller.

It’s normal to feel frustrated when a baby won’t be soothed and can’t stop crying. There are steps to take to avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed:

  • Know that it’s okay to take a time out. Put the child safely on their back in the crib and step out of the room to calm down. Stepping away reduces the chance of stress leading to a dangerous situation. Check on the child every few minutes to ensure they’re still safe.
  • Make time for self-care. Make time for yourself by getting a trusted caregiver to watch your baby. Make sure your caregiver also understands that crying is normal, and if they need a break it’s ok to put the baby down safely for a few moments.
  • Check the background of every caregiver. A key to preventing more deaths from abusive head trauma is to check out the background and childcare skills of any caregiver.
  • Talk about it. Have frank conversations with caregivers, including spouses and immediate family members, about the dangers of head trauma. Watch for signs that show a caregiver may not be prepared to care for a child, such as if they are easily angered or stressed, or seem inattentive. Don’t assume that a caregiver who loves the parent will feel the same way toward the child.
  • Seek support. Call on community resources for support. Dial 2-1-1 for immediate access to expert resources who can help you with your feelings of stress, anger or loneliness.

Even one preventable child death is too many. Learn about safe stress relief and how to keep kids safe at

Kelley Parris
Kelley Parris
Kelley Parris is the Executive Director of the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County.

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