Little baby boy crying with opened mouth

Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital has seen a rise in abusive head trauma cases in pediatric patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to pediatric neurosurgeon Tanya Minasian, DO, FACS.

“We have seen a significant increase in abusive head trauma during COVID,” Minasian said. “Since the stay at home orders were initiated in early 2020, abusive head trauma rates have been higher compared to the same time frame for the previous year.  By summer 2020, the percentage of abusive head trauma patients out of the total number of trauma patients evaluated at Children’s Hospital, was equal to that of the entire year of 2019 — with mortality from child abuse being over 20%.

Abusive head trauma, which includes shaken baby syndrome, is the number one cause of death in children less than two years old and is seen at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital at exponentially higher rates compared to other children’s hospitals across the country.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has sequestered families at home, leading to a rise in parent stress levels, economic instability and disconnection from community resources and support systems,” she said.

According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, most cases of abusive head trauma are the result of frustration by caregivers due to a baby crying, resulting in approximately 3,000 babies suffering from this trauma per year. 

A single episode of abusive head trauma can lead to a baby dying or being left with other severe disability, such as cognitive impairment, speech and learning disabilities, seizures, hearing and vision loss, broken bones, paralysis and more, Minasian said. 

She recommends parents and caregivers remember the following information in order to keep their babies safe:

  • It is imperative that parents trust other caregivers of their children
  • It is never okay to shake a baby. 
  • There are safe ways to calm a baby, such as gentle swaddling or rocking. 
  • Infants cry a lot in the first few months of life — that is normal. 
  • It is okay to put the baby in their crib, a safe place, and walk away— take a break. 

“Shaken baby syndrome is 100% preventable,” Minasian said. "One moment of frustration — one shake — can be disastrous for the baby.”

Minasian, with the support of Children’s Hospital, continues to partner with ThinkFirst — a national organization with a singular mission to prevent traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries through education, research and advocacy. Minasian provides free seminars to caregivers detailing teaching for the care of infants, providing essential resources and emphasizing the devastating consequences of shaking a baby. Children’s Hospital is a resource for caregivers in our community, always, and even more so now during the pandemic.