Throwing a baby in the air is unlikely to cause Shaken Baby Syndrome, although there are still dangers to consider including risk of spinal cord or brain injury, warns the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Even if your baby enjoys rough play, avoid jostling her head or risking serious injury by throwing her in the air and find alternate ways to gently play with your baby.
Brain or Head Injury
Doctors believe tossing a baby in the air can cause brain shaking, skull bruising and brain injury. Immature brain development can cause a baby's brain to bounce against the skull when tossed in the air, risking permanent damage from a fall or injury from brain rotation in the skull, according to Prevent Child Abuse Wyoming. Potential injuries sustainable only by falls range from relatively minor linear head fractures, where a bone is broken but does not move, to serious or deadly subdural hemorrhages, resulting in brain compression and leaking of blood into outer brain coverings, as the Mayo Clinic reports.
Spinal cord or neck injuries due to falls or other accidents are leading causes of disability or even death in young children, according to the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. The force of tossing a baby in the air can cause a baby's spine or neck to bend. Falls can cause the neck or spine to be compressed, resulting in loss of significant motor or sensory abilities. The heads of babies and young children comprise up to a quarter of their total body weight, and their necks are often not strong enough to support the head when tossed in the air, according to Prevent Child Abuse Wyoming.
Men are more likely to engage in rough play with their babies than women, who generally engage in more nurturing play, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Mothers should make their expectations clear in advance by discussing research regarding throwing a baby in the air with fathers so both parents understand the potential dangers. Experts recommend parents make it clear that throwing a baby high in the air is an unacceptable form of play. Moms might encourage dads or other caregivers to find alternative ways to engage a baby, such as rolling a ball or playing "peek-a-boo."
A drop or fall from a significant height could cause injury or even death in babies, due in part to increased gravitational force. However, serious head injuries are possible even if a baby were dropped from a few feet, such as if a parent broke a child's fall but could not keep the child from falling, according to the American College of Surgeons. Dropped or falling babies are susceptible to serious injuries, including vertebral or spinal injuries, skull fracture and severe brain injury. Parents should try other ways to play with a baby and not throw a baby high in the air.