An alarming number of dads are balancing their standing babies on the palms of their extended hands at dangerous heights. We know. It doesn’t sound like a great idea, and it isn’t. Neither is it a recent social media trend (it’s actually a dad-specific phenomenon that dates back decades). But allow us to clarify the painfully obvious—it puts infants at absurd and unnecessary risk of falling and sustaining serious injuries. “I’ve never heard of it and it sounds like a ridiculously awful thing to do,” Andy Bernstein, a physician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics told Fatherly.
“It is definitely fair to say it’s not worth the risk.”
There are hundreds of videos online of dads balancing babies on the palms of their hands. Sure, most dads play it safe and keep their children over a soft surface. But, as with anything on the internet, others raise the stakes. Some dads have been filmed lifting their wobbly kin above their heads, or running with their kids balanced on the palms of their hands. There are even online tutorials on how to balance your baby without dropping them (and when that fails, the blooper ends up on YouTube anyway). Nobody seems to think it’s a bad idea—even though it’s clearly a bad idea.
Don Shifrin, a physician, and fellow of the AAP, is more familiar with the trend. He worries that dads may have gotten this terrible idea from watching pediatricians test their childrens’ balance. While physicians never hold babies out toward potentially free-fall, they do hold their feet in a similar (but safer) position to gauge their centers of gravity. Shifrin advised Fatherly that parents not try this at home. And then he repeated himself, to remind us that he was not joking.
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This isn’t a new problem. Documentation of balancing babies dates back to the early 1900s and there’s evidence that the trend spans across cultures as well. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau became an example of both when publicly balanced constituent babies in front of their parents on the campaign trail in 2014. Why can’t he just kiss their heads like every other politician?
“See, I don’t just do this with my own kids,” Trudeau said on camera during a picnic, adding that his father did it when he was a baby. (No babies were injured during the stunt and subsequent memes and photoshopped exaggerations made for great internet fodder after the fact).
Pediatric physical therapist Scott A. Weiss told Fatherly that holding up babies is not all bad and, if done over a safe surface like a bed, it can help infants build balancing skills and have a lot of fun. But Benjamin Hoffman, a physician and fellow of the AAP, told Fatherly that although he’s not aware of any specific records of injuries or fatalities from this practice, he’s certain they’ve happened. The challenge in tracking such injuries is that emergency room codes would indicate that a baby fell, without mentioning how. Hoffman suspects that a bulk of these likely injuries have been minor lacerations, or perhaps broken arms and legs. But worse things could happen.
“Head trauma would be the biggest concern, and the fact that these kids are super top-heavy means they will likely hit head first if they did fall,” Hoffman warns. “As with most things, common sense, and resisting the urge to be a social media star is probably the best advice.”