The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome fields numerous calls from anxious parents and care givers each week, wondering if everyday play activities can possibly cause shaken baby syndrome. These parents usually call after a well-meaning relative or friend has cautioned them regarding such activities as using an infant swing, tossing a child in the air or bouncing a baby on the caregiver's knee. These callers are reassured once a staff member from the National Center explains SBS/AHT and the violence necessary to cause it.
The National Center and its International Advisory Board issues this position statement on the relationship between shaken baby syndrome and normal affectionate handling or innocent play activities:
Shaken baby syndrome, which may result in severe brain trauma, is caused when a child is violently shaken such that the head is subjected to back and forth motion in one or more directions resulting in rapid repeated severe acceleration and deceleration of the head. The medical literature and ongoing research around the world have characterized shaken baby syndrome as well as other forms of accidental and non-accidental injury. Activities involving an infant or a child such as tossing in the air, bouncing on the knee, placing a child in an infant swing or jogging with them in a back pack, do not cause the brain, bone, and eye injuries characteristic of shaken baby syndrome.
The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome recognizes and supports positions offered by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) in reference to the mechanisms that cause shaken baby syndrome. The forces required are distinctly different than those sustained by children in the activities described above or in short falls.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on shaken baby syndrome reads:
Shaken baby syndrome is a term often used by physicians and the public to describe abusive head trauma inflicted on infants and young children. Although shaking an infant has the potential to cause neurologic injury, blunt impact or a combination of shaking and blunt impact cause injury as well. Spinal cord injury and secondary hypoxic ischemic injury can contribute to poor outcomes of victims.
Abusive Head Trauma in Infants and Children- Policy Statement PEDIATRICS Vol. 123 No. 5 May 2009, pp. 1409-1411
Additionally the National Association of Medical Examiners Ad Hoc Committee on Shaken Baby Syndrome states:
...experts in many scientific fields have investigated whether such apparently innocent practices as tossing a baby into the air and other playful maneuvers might cause brain damage by a similar shaking mechanism. Currently, it is generally accepted that such playful practices do not result in injuries to the young child's brain. The type of shaking that is thought to result in significant brain injury involves holding the child by the thorax or an extremity and violently shaking the child back and forth, causing the head to forcefully whiplash forward and backward with repeated accelerations and decelerations in each direction. (Case et al., 2001)