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So, You Dropped Your Baby…

Babies are surprisingly resilient but these are the injuries to pay attention to.

If a baby fell off the bed or fell off the couch, their parent would feel a lot of worry and guilt. But those emotions are significantly increased when a parent drops their baby. Unfortunately, babies are not always docile and carrying a kid increases the likelihood that the kid will be dropped. The advice, of course, isn’t to stop holding babies. Instead, if a baby is dropped, parents should treat it like any other fall and do their best not to feel too terrible. Because the fact is that when a baby falls, there is usually no need for alarm, except in rare circumstances.

How to Prevent a Baby from Falling

The three most common scenarios for child falls are rolling off a bed, rolling off a changing table, or rolling off a tired parent. When parents multitask or feel rushed and tired, babies are much more likely to fall. The best solution to prevent dropping and falling is to remain attentive, use provided safety belts on changing tables and never fall asleep with a child on your chest. But even then, it’s unlikely that a parent can keep their child from all harm, explains  Most importantly, recognize that it’s just impossible for you to prevent anything bad from ever happening to your kid, explains pediatrician Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, author of The Smart Parent’s Guide: Getting Your Kids through Check Ups, Illnesses and Accidents.

“When you have a new baby, especially for the first time, and have to take care of all their needs, 24-7, there’s such overwhelming anxiety and fear that parents become paralyzed,” Trachtenberg says. “They’re scared that if anything happens they’re terrible parents. And that’s just not true.”

What Happens When a Baby Falls

If they fall a short distance onto a soft surface, most likely nothing will happen when a baby is dropped or falls. Yes, parents need to be careful with babies’ heads, but some are too paranoid. Trachtenberg notes she frequently has to calm dads who are afraid of their kids’ necks flopping back and breaking or their “soft spot” popping.  “It just doesn’t happen,” she tells them. The real danger occurs when a baby falls onto a hard surface from a height of 3-5 feet or more. Broken limbs, retinal hemorrhages, skull fractures, brain damage or swelling, and internal bleeding are the most severe scenarios. Luckily, these are rare and their effects can be minimized with decisive action.

How to Respond When a Baby Falls

Parents should respond as calmly as possible when a baby falls, Trachtenberg explains. “You’re probably much more upset than the baby is. This is an accident, not ongoing toxic stress. If you have an appropriate response, that’s what will make them secure.” So take a deep breath, recover your fumble, and just hold them and try to calm them as you would if they were screaming at 2 AM. You should be well-practiced at that. Then, assess the situation.

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If the baby calms down after a few minutes and is playing, smiling and distracted by toys per usual, they are probably in the clear. Still, it’s important to check for bumps and bruises and move their arms and legs. If they’re acting like themselves, save yourself the trip to the ER. “There will always be accidents or mishaps or issues that come up along the way. It’s how you deal with them that’s actually important,” Trachtenberg explains.

That said, there are warning signs that should prompt a trip to the ER or a pediatrician. If a baby is vomiting or inconsolable, or has bumps, bruises, and does not seem to be themselves, a trip to the doctor is likely necessary. And don’t forget about the extremities. “Sometimes people get so worried about the head they forget about the arms and legs.” They won’t move one if it really hurts, which can be a sign of a more serious injury.