Accidents happen, especially when sleep deprived. When a baby accidentally falls off the bed or couch, parents tend to panic, and often feel overwhelmed with guilt. Those emotions are compounded when a baby is dropped on their head. But perfect vigilance isn’t possible, and even the most attentive parents have had to soothe a baby after a drop or fall.
Luckily, babies are resilient, and in the vast majority of cases where a baby falls or is dropped a small distance, there’s little cause for concern. When a baby falls, the most important thing to do is calmly assess the damage and watch for the signs of serious injury. In fact, the way parents react to a baby’s actions teach them how to respond to themselves. If a parent overreacts to minor slips and trips, a baby may have trouble learning resilience. So, instead of shouting out in shock, here are the best courses of action to take when you see your baby fall:
Prevent a Baby From Falling in the First Place
The best scenario, of course, is for an infant never to fall. But things happen. The most common cause of babies falling is a flash of inattention or parental fatigue. Most often, babies fall from beds, couches, or changing tables, or roll 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. Most importantly, recognize that it’s simply impossible for you to prevent anything bad from ever happening to your kid, says pediatrician Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, author of The Smart Parent’s Guide: Getting Your Kids through Check Ups, Illnesses and Accidents. You can’t be too hard on yourself.
“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
A minor drop or fall from a short distance is never usually a cause for concern. Parental anxiety can actually derail the calm, rational assessment that’s critical after a fall. 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 to 5 feet or more. Broken limbs, retinal hemorrhages, skull fractures, brain damage or swelling, and internal bleeding are among the most severe risks associated with a serious fall. Luckily, the chances of these happening due to a fall or drop are rare, and their effects can be minimized with decisive action.
How to Respond When a Baby Falls
The way parents react to a baby’s fall could be said to have the most critical impact on the effects of the fall, 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 a.m. You should be well-practiced at that. Then, assess the situation.
A baby won’t hide their distress if the fall was worse than it looked. If the baby calms down after a few minutes and is playing, smiling, and distracted by toys as 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 in the wake of a fall. If a baby is vomiting or inconsolable, or has bumps, bruises, and does not seem to be themselves after a fall, a trip to the doctor is 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.
What to Do if Your Baby Falls
- To prevent falls, remain attentive.
- Use provided safety belts on changing tables.
- Never fall asleep with a child on your chest.
- When a baby falls respond as calmly as possible.
- Check for bumps and bruises and move their arms and legs.
- If a baby has bumps, bruises, and does not seem to be themselves after a fall, or is vomiting or inconsolable, a trip to the doctor is necessary.