More than 2,000 infants and children were hospitalized as the result of being shaken by their caregivers in a given year. Physicians suspect that the numbers are even higher since the syndrome often goes unreported.

Shaken baby syndrome refers to the violent and unnecessary repetitive shaking of an infant or young child. A combination of a heavy head, weak neck muscles and a soft and rapidly growing brain can lead to severe bruising of the shaken child’s brain. Blindness, mental retardation or death can occur as a result. Children with shaken baby syndrome may require lifelong medical care.

Shaken baby syndrome can also occur when a child is bounced up and down on a person’s knee or tossed in the air. Playing games like “cracking the whip” where a child is swung around by the ankles or “skinning the cat” where a child is flipped and somersaulted forward by the wrists have also been known to cause shaken baby syndrome.

Babies are extremely vulnerable to head injury because whiplash motions can cause bleeding in and around the brain and behind the eyes. The action is much like placing a raw egg in a jar and shaking it.

No one likes to hear a baby cry, especially if you’ve done everything possible to make the baby comfortable. A baby never cries to make the parent or caregiver mad. Babies cry for a variety of reasons — when they’re hungry or need to be changed — but sometimes babies cry because they are having a hard time adjusting to life. If there is no medical reason for the crying, the best thing to do is to let your baby cry and keep your frustration under control. You can ask another responsible adult for help in caring for your baby.

Here are some additional things you can do when a baby cries:

Feed slowly and burp often;

Offer a pacifier;

Hold the infant against your chest and walk or rock; and

Take the baby for a ride in a stroller or car.

If you’ve had all you can take, lay the baby down making sure he or she is safe from harm — and take a break. Let the baby cry it out.

Be sure to tell others who are in contact with your child — baby sitters, day care workers, brothers and sisters and other family members about the dangers of shaking a baby. You may even want to post signs in the baby’s room and around the house to remind everyone in the house not to shake the baby.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.