Shaken Baby Syndrome :: I can understand how it happens.

Understanding shaken baby syndrome and trying to talk about the taboo. Toby & Roo:: daily inspiration for stylish parents

I’m sure some of you will have heard about the defence doctor who has testified about her version of “shaken baby syndrome” and the effects it can have on a child being accused of unlawfully misrepresenting other scientists work, and facing disbarment. Basically, there are three main indicators that are widely accepted as results of a baby being vigorously shaken and she goes against the majority and beliefs that these injuries could be caused by other incidents too. The dr has testified to this in court of behalf of people accused of shaking a baby, so now that she is facing disbarment it raises questions about these trials and future ones.

I was watching a news piece on the whole topic the other day when a young woman came on to say that she had seen first hand the effects of shaking a baby and wanted to raise awareness for the symptoms and getting better help to prevent any child being shaken. Her point was that we need to make it so that people can admit they have shaken their child and seek help. It needs to become less of a taboo.

The problem with that is it will never become “less taboo” to admit you want to hurt your baby, or in some instances you have. Who wants to admit that?

Well, I will. Here’s the thing, I can 100% understand how someone can accidentally harm and shake their baby. There, I said it.

I really, truly can. Thankfully I have been blessed with a wonderful support network, help in many forms and I am lucky enough to have been taught that there should be no stigma around asking for help, or needing it if you feel you aren’t coping. If you feel that you are slipping into a stage of postnatal depression or severe anxiety, then you need to ask for help. I don’t like asking for help anymore than the next mother, but if I feel I could become a danger to my kids without it, I would ask and I would seek it out. Fortunately for me I have never hurt any of my children in a moment of unspeakable rage or despair, I’ve never shaken my baby. I’ve wanted to, I’ve sat for what felt like hours listening to her scream in my face, bite my nipples and pinch me, I’ve cried with her. I’ve tried to help, I’ve tried to do my best by her, but sometimes there is nothing I can do and I have felt this overwhelming frustration, this panic and this desire to make her Just. Stop. Fortunately for me I have been lucky enough to feel this emotion building, put her down and walk away. Even at 2am, go away, splash my face with water or make a drink and then go back to her when I’m calm.

But not everyone is as lucky as me.

Sometimes you are very much alone. No help, no support network and you have been raised to believe in the “suck it up” attitude. Your baby has colic, you’re so sleep deprived you can’t think straight and in that one moment of frustration and over whelming despair, you lose your shit. It’s not always as simple as “put the baby down, walk away and calm yourself down” – sometimes mental illness doesn’t allow for that thought process. We need to try and provide better after care for women who have little by way of support, and even for those that have a tonne of support because being a new parent is hard. Really hard.

What I want to get across in this is that I’m not excusing harming your baby. There is no way to excuse it, and I genuinely think any parent who had done so would agree with that. In fact they will most likely never excuse themselves for their actions, especially if the results are serious and the baby has long term injuries or dies. I can’t imagine the horror that must pass through the mind of a parent who has accidentally harmed their child in a moment of insanity. But the truth is, neither can you unless you’ve been there.

I got what this woman was saying – though it will never be less taboo, even if we talk about it. The truth is, we need to change things. We need to make it easier for women to say “I’m not coping” without the judgement and the stigma. Don’t you ever feel parenting is one big X-Factor scenario and you are constantly being judged?

What are our thoughts on the topic? Please be kind in your comments – it’s a subject that is so sensitive and emotive, so think before you type.

H x

Footnote: this post is in reference to “Shaken Baby Syndrome” which I’ve included a link to the foundation if you feel you need help. Please, always ask for help. Someone, anyone – please. Also, this is in reference to accidental harm, not child abuse – they are not the same things. Statistically men in their 20’s are the most common perpetrators of deliberate SBS, and I want to make sure it is crystal clear this is NOT aimed at them. Rather at encouraging mothers to seek help if they feel they are struggling and may shake their child.


  1. Avatar October 19, 2016 / 10:47 am

    Beautiful post! For more support and less judgement of mothers. Thank you.

  2. Avatar March 21, 2016 / 12:51 pm

    I completely agree with you and great post. Thankfully my two have been pretty easy babies/toddlers but there have been moments, especially with my first when it was all brand new that I cried a lot ( I think I had undiagnosed PND) and thankfully my supportive husband and family were on hand to help out when I needed it but it could have been a very different story if I’d had a terror of a child and no backup x

    • Harriet March 22, 2016 / 11:10 am

      Thanks Steph, it’s genuinely terrifying when you realise what it could mean for you isn’t it? xx

  3. Avatar March 18, 2016 / 7:47 am

    I have had this exact conversation with my husband when our daughter has been a complete terror. I can see how it happens. I’ve had to go and sit in the garden before just to clear my head. Like you, I don’t condone it, obviously, but it would be naive to pretend I don’t get how it can happen. My husband works nights so when he comes home and asks how she’s been some nights I could just cry!

    • Harriet March 18, 2016 / 4:12 pm

      Oh Sammie! My husband used to work in hospitality and I never really saw him for a few years! It was a quick hi then up to bed, then back to work – a total nightmare. Fortunately I had other help, but in that situation with no help, I can understand it. H x

  4. Avatar March 17, 2016 / 10:18 am

    I welled up reading this because Toby was such a challenging baby and for over a year I was like you, crying through the day and night as he screamed and was constantly unsettled. Like you, I have a fantastic support network but hubby and I have had this conversation how we now totally understand what leads to babies being shaken. There really does need to be so much more support. My midwives and health visitor didn’t spot any of the danger signs even though I knew I was borderline depressed xx

    • Harriet March 18, 2016 / 5:39 pm

      Yep, couldn’t agree with you more Hannah. I too have felt myself slipping into depression and it’s been missed. I’m sure when you have more than one child they assume you will just “get on with it” though E has been the hardest child I’ve ever had. By a mile. A million miles.
      I’ve read about courses that have been built into antenatal classes that talk about SBS and how important it is to put baby down, leave them and come back when you are level headed. It isn’t a case of CIO or neglect, it doesn’t go against attachment parenting values etc, but rather it allows mum to retain some sense of rational thought, regroup and calm down. Or dad. Or whoever! H x

  5. Avatar March 16, 2016 / 8:44 pm

    There definitely needs to be more support out there for struggling parents to stop tragedies like this happening,

    • Harriet March 16, 2016 / 9:41 pm

      I agree Jemma, totally. H x

  6. Avatar March 16, 2016 / 3:11 pm

    Great points and i completely agree from both sides really, owning up about struggles of parenting definitely needs to happen more.. instead of judging.

    • Harriet March 16, 2016 / 8:29 pm

      Thanks Claire, I agree – we need to own up to when we’re struggling and finding it hard! H x

  7. Avatar March 16, 2016 / 2:30 pm

    This is a very emotive subject and not something I have ever really thought about. I can see both sides. One thing I would say is that mothers need to talk more about every aspect of parenting so we can all help each other xxx

    • Harriet March 16, 2016 / 3:02 pm

      Couldn’t agree with you more Sarah – it needs to be about helping each other and not crucifying men or women who admit that they simple are struggling to cope. H x

  8. Avatar March 16, 2016 / 11:44 am

    I can completely agree with everything you have said. But at the end of the day. we’re only hum an and we do the best we can at the end of it all. Understanding how someone can do it and actually DOING it and two entirely separate things. x #Love2Blog

    • Harriet March 16, 2016 / 2:03 pm

      Very very true Debs, the act and the understanding are so different – I do think if we could talk more about the understanding we might be able to encourage more people to ask for help. H x

  9. Avatar March 16, 2016 / 11:30 am

    Hey Harriet I can completely see what you are saying here. Like you say it is not okay to act out in anger and harm your baby. I also think that there is not always enough support for new mums and in some cases can be no where to turn, and too much judgment. But it doesn’t have to be that way people need to seek help and just because they are too ashamed to seek help doesn’t mean that it excuses harming their baby. I think this is a really tough one because I think it has a lot to do with the person there is help everywhere in terms of communities and friends if one doesn’t have family but it is about looking and seeking that. I know what you are saying about mental health too, like I said it’s a tough one but really I don’t feel any mental illness excuses it. But completely see where you are coming from. It saddens me, thank you for sharing your thoughts X

    • Harriet March 16, 2016 / 2:04 pm

      Thanks Tanita. It is a tough one – I do feel that there is such a stigma around asking for help that people simply won’t unless they feel there is more understanding. Mother and parenting shaming has a big impact on this kind of thing and it’s hell for people who need the help. H x

  10. Avatar March 16, 2016 / 10:13 am

    Aww Harriet, such a moving post. As I’m not yet a mum I can only imagine what it’s like; the pressures, the stress. Mums do so such, it’s not an easy job x

  11. Avatar March 16, 2016 / 8:09 am

    I definetly agree with you, and think there should be more support group about. Every child is different and same with ever mother. X

    • Harriet March 16, 2016 / 2:05 pm

      Thanks Viki, you are so right. My first two were so easy in comparison to Edith, and as a a mother to three I do find that I’m given the old “you can cope because you’ve been there” shebang. H x

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