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Preventing Abusive Head Trauma: Care Instructions


Abusive head trauma is brain damage that occurs when a baby is shaken or is slammed or thrown against an object. This is also known as shaken baby syndrome. It is a form of child abuse that occurs when the baby's caregiver loses control. Shaking a baby or striking a baby's head can cause bruising and bleeding to the brain.

Caring for a baby can be trying at times. You may have periods of feeling overwhelmed, especially if your baby is crying. Many babies cry from 1 to 5 hours out of every 24 hours during the first few months of life. Some babies cry more. You can learn ways to help stay in control of your emotions when you feel stressed. Then you can be with your baby in a loving and healthy way.

Be careful

It may not be safe to take home information about abusive head trauma like this handout. Some people ask a trusted friend to keep it for them. It's also important to plan ahead and to memorize the phone number of places you can go for help. If you are concerned about your safety or your baby's safety, do not use your computer, smartphone, or tablet to read about abusive head trauma.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Take steps to protect yourself from being stressed.
    • Learn about how children develop so that you will understand why children behave as they do. Talk to your doctor about parent education classes or books.
    • Talk with other parents about the ways they cope with the demands of parenting.
    • Ask for help when you need time for yourself.
    • Take short breaks and naps whenever you can.
  • If your baby cries a lot, try these ways to take care of your baby's needs or to remove yourself safely.
    • Check to see if your baby is hungry or has a wet or dirty diaper.
    • Hold your baby to your chest while you take and release deep breaths.
    • Swing, rock, or walk with your baby. Some babies love to be taken for car rides or stroller walks.
    • Tell stories and sing songs to your baby, who loves to hear your voice.
    • Let your baby cry alone for a few minutes if their needs are taken care of. Make sure your baby is in a safe place, such as a crib. Remove yourself to another room where you can breathe calmly, and try to clear your head. Count to 10 with each breath.
  • Try some steps for relieving stress in your life. There are self-help books and classes on yoga, relaxation techniques, and other ways to relieve stress. Counselling and anger management training help many parents adjust to new pressures.
  • Never shake or harm a baby. Never slap or hit a baby.
  • Take steps to protect your child from abuse by others.
    • Be sure caregivers know never to shake or harm a baby.
    • Screen your potential child care providers to find out their backgrounds and attitudes about child care.
    • If you suspect child abuse, and the child is not in immediate danger, contact your local child protection services or police.
    • Do not confront someone who you suspect is a child abuser. This may cause more harm to the child.
    • If you are concerned about a child's well-being, call your doctor or nurse advice line.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think a child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • A child is unconscious or is having trouble breathing.
  • A baby has been shaken. It is extremely important that a shaken baby gets medical care right away.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are concerned that you cannot control your actions around your child.
  • You are concerned that a child's caregiver cannot control their actions around a child.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if your child has any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.