"Try not to drop your baby," said paediatrician Tricia Jean Gold, who practices at Tribeca Pediatrics in New York City, when I call to ask her advice.
Illustration by Angelica Alzona/GMG
OK, fine, but what to do if one does drop the baby? It's a terrifying moment, one that sends many panicked parents through Gold's door each week. "They're usually sobbing," she says, "and I tell them, 'I really want you to come in, because I want to reassure you and give you a hug.'" In 10 years of practice, she's had very few cases in which she sent a child to the ER after being dropped. "I'm not belittling [the fear that comes when you drop your baby], I'm not unsympathetic — they cry, they're upset — but ... five minutes later they're back to the child they were." Summary: Your baby is probably fine.
So what should the distraught parent look for? The obvious things, the things that you know aren't right, she says, such as losing consciousness, persistent vomiting, irritability, excessive sleepiness, a change in behaviour, and "unarousability".
"It's what happens right after that's most telling," Gold says. "Parents sometimes forget to check the overall physical features on their child's body, focusing on the head and overlooking the rest" — such as the wrists or collarbone. "Give him half an hour and see if he's acting completely the same. Sit them up and start engaging with them in the fashion you normally would. Don't try to feed them right away, because sometimes they're still upset." Lumps on the head are not necessarily terrible news, but Gold notes that not all parts of the head are equal — a lump above the ear is more serious than on other regions, for example.
And try to calm down, Gold says. It's an "extremely common phone call" for her practice, and she rarely sends the baby for a CT scan. "We have to think historically," she says. "We fall out of trees, kids fall while walking, they fall backwards off of things." She adds, "Thank goodness we are not such a fragile species" that we can't take some thumps and survive.
If they're completely acting the same, and didn't lose consciousness, they likely won't meet the diagnostic criteria for a CT scan in the emergency room. Of course, if the child is simply not herself, call the doctor or go to the hospital.
While We're at It, How to Not Drop Your Baby
In the interest of prevention, I ask Gold for the top five most common "Oh crap, I dropped the baby" scenarios so that you can try to avoid them:
The oh-god-I'm-so-tired: The parent falls asleep in the glider while feeding the baby and loses her grip, or is side-nursing in bed and newborn baby is a little too close to the edge.
The high kick: After the parent wedges the baby in on the sofa (don't do this), the baby's stepping reflex kicks them off the couch.
The classic: While changing a nappy on the changing table, the parent says, "Oh shoot, I left the nappy cream in the dresser," steps aside, and whoops!
The nap-ender: While napping together or co-sleeping, the six- to nine-month-old baby rolls further and faster than the parent thought she could, and plummets off the side of the bed.
The Italian Job: The stroller isn't locked and rolls down the stairs, or the bassinet isn't securely clicked into the stroller, or the baby is covered in blankets and the parent forgets to strap him in. These scenarios are the most serious of the list, says Gold, particularly if the fall is on cement. Those are situations in which she would be more likely bring the kid in.
This is all pretty reassuring, except for the image of a stroller rolling down a set of stairs, but I ask Gold, "Is it OK to call the paediatrician anyway, even if she's going to think you're overreacting?"
"Absolutely," she says. "That really is the best thing to do: You can keep everyone off Google, you can reassure them, they can speak to someone they trust. Even when I just ask the [diagnostic criteria] questions, the parent realises, 'Oh, my kid's fine.' And in the two per cent of cases that were more serious, there was no question about what we needed to do."