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Shaken Baby Syndrome- the Result of a Baby Toss?

Photo Credit: Your Keyboard Basket 3 mins read

WhatsApp message claims that tossing a baby in the air can cause Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Tossing a baby up in the air is unlikely to result in Shaken Baby Syndrome. Notwithstanding, it can be triggered if the baby has pre-existing health conditions.

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October was a special month as it marked the first birthday for actor and politician, John Dumelo’s son. He took to social media, sharing pictures of his family to commemorate the event. In one of the pictures, John Dumelo Jr is seen flying high in the sky with smiles on his face. His dad is pictured looking on, smiling.

This, however, did not go down well with some social media users who had mixed feelings regarding it. The lot claimed that it was life-threatening and a precursor for shaken baby syndrome.

Source: Whatsapp group

But what is shaken baby syndrome and can tossing a child up high result in this condition?

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is considered a form of child abuse that results from violently shaking an infant or small child by the shoulders, arms or legs. Traumatic Brain Syndrome, abusive head trauma or inflicted traumatic brain injury are other titles used to describe this condition. It is important to note that the act of shaking that leads to SBS is so violent that individuals observing it would recognize it as dangerous- enough to kill the child. 

Shaken Baby Syndrome can also be caused by throwing a baby against a hard object, by hitting them on the head with a hard object or forcefully dropping them.

A case for SBS

Shaking a baby vigorously is harmful because unlike adults, babies have very weak neck muscles and large heads compared with their bodies. This makes it difficult for them to support their heavy heads. If forcefully shaken, their brain moves back and forth inside the skull. This can tear blood vessels and nerves inside the brain and cause bruising, swelling, bleeding and nerve damage. Brain swelling may build pressure in the skull. This pressure makes it hard for blood, carrying oxygen and nutrients, to reach the brain, further harming it.

Adults will “adult” and babies will cry 

The most common trigger or incident leading to SBS is infant crying. Caregivers who are unable to deal with the incessant crying of infants may vent out their frustration by violently shaking them. SBS cases usually happen to babies less than two years. It is however commonest among infants age six to eight weeks as this is the period when they cry the most. This though is a perfectly normal behavioural development stage that all babies go through.

SBS Prevalence

Studies show that between 15 and 38 per cent of babies diagnosed with SBS in the United States lose their lives (Official figures for Ghana were not readily available at the time this article was written). Survivors may suffer long term damage such as learning and behavioural disabilities, seizures, and paralysis. 

Should you toss a baby in the air?

Tossing a baby in the air may not result in SBS. According to DUBAWA’s in-house health expert, Dr Tavershima Adongo, although there is a remote possibility that it can occur, no one has recorded SBS as a by-product of tossing a baby up in the air.

“Tossing up a child might not provide enough side to side force as vigorously shaking. But perhaps if there is some other weakness then it might occur” 

Doctor Tavershima

Other activities such as bouncing a baby on your knees, fall off a couch or furniture, jogging or cycling with your baby and sudden stops in a car or over a speed bump are also unlikely to cause SBS.

Caroline Anipah is the Programme Officer of DUBAWA, Ghana. She holds an MPhil in Communication Studies and an undergraduate degree in English and Political Science from the University of Ghana. She is a trained journalist and has engaged in various research activities with notable institutions including Ghana Statistical Service, German Development Institute (GIZ) and the USAID Evaluate for Health over the years. She has also worked with the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) on a regional (West Africa-wide) comprehensive research on the state of the media. She brings to the project and team, her experience in both media and research.

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