What to do when your baby hits his head

Head bumps occur as your baby begins to roll, crawl, walk, and explore their environment. But while baby bumps on the head may be common, that doesn’t mean they’re not worrisome. The vast majority (90%) of head injuries in children are minor.

But what about the 10%? Can you identify if your baby or toddler has a serious head injury and respond appropriately?

This article will discuss common causes, signs and symptoms of mild to moderate or severe head injuries in infants or young children, what to do at home, when to call your doctor, and how to prevent these injuries.

Common causes

Lumps can appear on a baby’s head for a variety of reasons. Most are due to minor falls and spills that occur every day even in well-supervised homes. But others are the result of more serious events.

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Babies and toddlers are naturally curious — and fast. Nor do they have the physical coordination or neck development that older children have. All of these factors can make them prone to falls.

Babies fall in many ways, and the height at which they fall does not always correlate with the severity of the head injury. But research shows that children under 12 months are most likely to fall off a bed, a caregiver’s arm or a child carrier.

No matter how they fall, falls are actually the leading cause of injury to children. They account for 50% of non-fatal injuries in infants under the age of 1.

good news? Falls rarely result in serious head trauma. In one study, less than 3 percent of young children who fell from objects such as furniture or strollers experienced traumatic brain injury (an injury that causes damage to the brain).

unintended effects

Your baby slams into a wall, bangs his head against the edge of his crib, or gets hit on the head (you know, naively) by a wooden block thrown by his siblings. It’s all part of growing up.

Rarely, these accidental collisions result in serious head injuries, such as concussions, which are brain damage caused by a hard blow to the head.

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Car accidents (where the child is a passenger or as a pedestrian) and bicycle accidents are other causes of head injuries in children. Some injuries can be serious, others not.

child abuse

In the United States, there are approximately 1,300 reports of abusive head trauma (AHT) in infants each year. For example, AHT occurs when a child is shaken violently, or when their head is hit with a hard object, such as a wall. One in four babies with AHT will die.

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signs and symptoms

Your baby rolls off the changing table or the counter you let them perch on. How do you know if any blow to the head is mild or severe?

minor head injury

Your baby or toddler can’t tell you if they have headaches or dizziness, which are common symptoms of minor head injuries, such as mild concussions.

A concussion is a brain injury that occurs when a strong blow to the head causes the soft brain tissue to bounce back against the hard skull. This change can damage brain cells, usually only for a short time.

Please note the following:

  • A lump or bruise (bruise) on the head: This may have an oval shape and is sometimes called a “goose egg”. Some bumps can be very large, but do not necessarily indicate serious injury.
  • irritability
  • Vomit
  • lethargy
  • Sensitivity to light and noise

Moderate to severe head injury

Most infant head injuries are not serious, but be vigilant. Notice:

  • lose consciousness, even for a second
  • repeated vomiting
  • Large incision in the head (may need sutures)
  • Seizures
  • pale
  • Mydriasis (larger dark circle in the center of one eye than the other)
  • Drainage (usually blood or clear fluid) from the ear or nose
  • inability to suck or nurse
  • a blank stare
  • excessive crying
  • balance problem
  • Changes in sleep and wake patterns (eg, difficulty waking babies)
  • Bruising under the eyes and behind the ears (may indicate a severe skull fracture)

When to call 911

If your child:

  • have a seizure
  • lose consciousness
  • vomit
  • There is a lot of bleeding that doesn’t stop after a few minutes of hard pressure
  • discharge from the ear or nose
  • swelling/bruising on the head (this may indicate a skull fracture)
  • have a swollen soft spot (the soft spot, or fontanelle, is the space between the plates in your baby’s skull that fuse together with age)
  • hard to wake up
  • Inability to move the neck normally
  • acting oddly or looking hurt
  • have a fracture
  • have difficulty breathing

what to do at home

Panic may be your first reaction when your baby falls, but try to stay calm. Take the following steps:

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  • If your baby is alert and cries (this is a perfectly normal response, as your baby may be startled and may be in some pain), you can hold your baby and try to soothe them.
  • If your child has a lump, you can apply cold packs for about 20 minutes every three to four hours.
  • If there is bleeding (and there may be a lot of blood because of the blood vessels near the skin surface of the head), apply pressure with a clean cloth for about 15 minutes.
  • Ask your doctor for instructions on giving your baby pain relievers, such as acetaminophen.

One caveat: don’t try to move an unconscious child. Your child may have a spine or neck injury, both of which can be made worse by poor mobility.

When to call your doctor

If your child hits the head, experts recommend calling your child’s healthcare professional and they:

  • under 1 year old
  • has lost consciousness
  • vomiting more than once
  • seem particularly picky
  • hard to wake up
  • Unusual behavior – for example, your walking child can’t balance himself

fall prevention

Fall prevention involves the use of supervision and safety measures:

  • Never leave your child alone in the bathtub or on an elevated surface such as a bed, changing table or sofa.
  • Correctly tether your baby in baby equipment such as swings, strollers, high chairs, inflatable seats, etc.
  • Block the stairs with a baby gate.
  • Do not place an infant on a baby carrier or on a bouncy seat on a table top. Put them on the floor while your baby is inside.
  • Keep deck and balcony doors locked. When the door is open, use a baby door and make sure the deck/balcony furniture is not against the railing.
  • Lock windows or use window guards. Keep furniture away from windows to prevent children from climbing over the edge of the window.
  • Use a non-slip mat in the tub and make sure your child stays seated during the bath.
  • Don’t try to multitask, for example, carry your baby along with clothes, groceries, etc. at the same time.
  • When holding your baby, always pay attention to your footing. Many head injuries occur when babies accidentally fall off a caregiver’s arm.
  • If your baby tries to climb on them, secure items like bookcases or dressers to the wall to keep them from tipping over.

generalize

Babies may be hit on the head due to a fall or other accident or abuse situation. Minor injuries may include a lump, minor bleeding, or a mild concussion. Moderate or severe injuries include concussions and head injuries. Call your doctor or seek emergency care if they have symptoms such as loss of consciousness, vomiting, difficulty waking up, or changes in behavior.

VigorTip words

Because babies lack balance and physical mobility, accidental head bumps are almost inevitable as they grow and move. But whenever your baby falls and hits his head, it’s understandable to worry about things like concussions and other brain injuries.

Fortunately, very few head injuries in young children are serious, and many can be prevented with proper infant protection. If your baby falls, watch for signs and symptoms of a head injury and seek medical help when appropriate.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should you worry about your baby bumping his head?

    Contact a healthcare provider if your child shows signs of a head injury. For example, if your baby shows any of the following signs:

    • difficult to wake up
    • will not care
    • heartbroken
    • loss of balance, if they are normally able to walk
    • lose consciousness
    • vomiting multiple times

    Your baby is unlikely to get out of childhood without bumping his head a few times. In most cases, your baby will be fine. If you are concerned about your child’s condition, please call your child’s healthcare provider at any time.

  • How do you know if your baby has a concussion?

    To know if your baby has a concussion, you must watch for certain symptoms. These signs may warrant a visit to the emergency room as soon as possible.

    • repeated vomiting
    • drowsiness or difficulty waking up
    • convulsions or seizures
    • one pupil is larger than the other
    • avoid breastfeeding or eating
    • don’t stop crying
    • lose consciousness
  • What should I do if my baby gets goosebumps?

    If your baby has a head injury that causes a goose bump (bruise), you can apply a cold compress or an ice pack to the bump for 15 to 20 minutes every few hours. Larger bumps may just be a sign of a minor head injury. If there are any signs of a more serious head injury, such as loss of consciousness or repeated vomiting, it may be worth contacting your child’s healthcare provider.