There are few things more frightening for a parent than when their baby takes a knock to the noggin. Whether the child falls or is accidentally struck by something, it can be a harrowing experience trying to determine if it's just a little bump, or something more serious. To calm all of those rattled nerves out there, I asked two pediatricians for their expert advice on when parents should be concerned after a baby bumps their head. Chances are, you've totally panicked when you didn't need to.
Dr. Alison Mitzner is a board-certified pediatrician, family wellness and fitness expert, as well as a single mom of two. And she has some very calm, simple advice for when your child takes a minor knock: "If your baby hits their head, you can expect them to get fussy and then quickly settle down," she says. Mitzner explains that bump and bruise may develop, but "as long as the baby cried right away, didn’t lose consciousness, and is now settled down, alert, and behaving normally," then parents can treat it like a normal injury and break out the ice pack. Dr. Mitzner suggests icing "20 minutes on, then 20 minutes off, or the best you can with a little one!"
After that, she says to watch the child closely, and if the injury occurred close to bedtime or nap time, to check in on them a few times while they sleep.
It's totally fine to err on the side of 'better safe than sorry,' and you should never feel silly for doing so.
As for signs that an injury is more serious? Dr. Whitney Casares is a pediatrician and author of the parenting book The New Baby Blueprint.(Side note: she also has a podcast called the "Modern Mommy Doc," where she conducts interviews with other successful moms. The episodes are called things like "How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids with Jancee Dunn", a title I find both amusing and refreshingly honest.)
Dr. Casares says if a child has difficulty staying awake, is vomiting, or is extremely fussy, parents should seek immediate, emergency-level care. Likewise, "if your child is unresponsive, having difficulty breathing, exhibiting seizure-like activity, or you think his injuries are otherwise life-threatening, call 911."
Once you've called 911, Dr. Casares says to make sure to keep the child in a safe space where they can be closely observed until medical care arrives.
Sometimes, of course, a kid bumps their head and then seems totally fine. Though you might still be worried, and it can be hard to not feel as if you're overreacting. But as with all things parenting, it's totally fine to err on the side of "better safe than sorry," and you should never feel silly for doing so. Dr. Mitzner echoes this sentiment, saying that regardless of a child's behavior or reaction after a head injury, if a kid hits their head at all, parents should always notify the child's doctor. "They will let you know what you should look out for and when further evaluation may be needed. You want to watch your child closely for the next 24 hours."
Ultimately, Dr. Mitzner encourages parents to trust their instincts: "Any concern with your baby or little one that the head injury seems serious at all, call your pediatrician right away."
Dr. Alison Mitzner, board certified pediatrician, family wellness and fitness expert
Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H., author of The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for You and Your Little One and founder of www.modernmommydoc.com