What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

There are no complete or valid statistics to show how many children are injured by Shaken Baby Syndrome each year, although many experts believe the number to be over 1500. Head injuries are the leading cause of child abuse fatalities. Most head injuries occur in babies under the age of one and are abusive in nature.

“Shaken Baby Syndrome is a serious form of child maltreatment most often involving children under 2 years but many be seen in children up to 5 years old. It occurs commonly, but maybe misdiagnosed in its most subtle form and under diagnosed in its most serious form.”

“Contrary to early speculations, Shaken Baby Syndrome is unlikely to be an isolated event. Evidence of prior child abuse is common. Specific evidence of previous cranial injuries (e.g., old intracranial hemorrhages) from shaking episodes is found in about 33% - 40% of all cases.”

What is SIDS? (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?)

The American Academy of Pediatrics defines Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as the sudden and unexplained death of an apparently healthy infant, under one year of age, which remains unexplained after a review of the complete medical history, thorough death investigation, and autopsy. SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion.

What is SUID? Sudden Unexplained Infant Death?

SUID is a diagnosis for infants under one year of age and is made in cases in which autopsy does not reveal a definitive medical or traumatic cause of death and the circumstances surrounding the death suggest that there is an associated risk factor for dying, such as unsafe bedding or co-sleeping or some other external/environmental factor, but the contribution of this factor cannot be determined with certainty. The diagnosis may also be used in the situation where a medical disease is identified, but it is uncertain that this disease caused death.

How are SIDS and SUID Different?

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (2007) explains the major difference between SIDS and SUID is the presence or absence of an external risk factor such as an unsafe sleeping environment or a medical disease. All SIDS cases are classified as natural deaths with regard to manner of death. In contrast, the majority of SUID cases are classified as undetermined manner of death. In some rare cases, SUID cases are classified as natural deaths.

A Thorough Investigation is Critical

Many SIDS and SUID cases are not investigated, and when they are, cause of death data are not collected and reported consistently. Inaccurate classification of cause and manner of death hampers prevention efforts and researchers are unable to adequately monitor national trends, identify risk factors, or evaluate intervention programs. We need valid and reliable data to support research and prevention efforts if we want to reduce these infant deaths. Investigators are key to an accurate diagnosis in infant deaths.


There are approximately 4,500 SUID deaths in the United States each year, including more than 2,500 SIDS deaths. Of these SIDS/SUID deaths, statistics indicate that as many as 80-90% may be the result of unsafe sleep practices. In Texas, we lose about 275-300 deaths annually. SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants from one month to one year of age.

For More Information:

Definitions, Coping Mechanisms, Research, medical consensus and FAQ's: National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome.



American Academy of Pediatrics 

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