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What to Do When Your Baby Falls

Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on June 06, 2022

Falls are the most common cause of injuries for all age groups. Babies are especially at risk of falling as they learn to roll, climb, and walk. No matter how careful you are, you can’t prevent all accidents, so it’s important to know what to do when your baby falls.

First, Judge the Fall

Seeing or hearing your baby fall is likely to make you panic. Your first instinct is to pick up your baby, but pause and assess first. Sometimes babies need to see the doctor after a fall and sometimes they’re fine. But if they’re hurt, picking them up immediately might make an injury worse.

Before you jump into action, rate the severity of the fall. Consider:

From how high did your baby fall? The higher the height, the higher the danger. A fall from over 3 feet or 5 stairs is serious for a baby or child under 2 years old and they should see a doctor right away. 

What did your child fall onto? Falling onto hard surfaces is more dangerous than softer ones. Check whether your baby fell onto concrete, ceramic tile, stone, compacted sand, or other hard surfaces.

Did they hit anything during the fall? Landing on glass or falling against sharp edges of furniture can cause serious injuries. If there is any major bleeding or anything is sticking out of your baby, call an ambulance.

Check Your Baby

Next, check your baby. It’s not always easy to know if there’s an injury, but there are a few key signs to look for. 

Call an ambulance if your baby:

  • Throws up more than once
  • Has blood or fluid coming out of their nose or ears 
  • Won’t wake up
  • Isn’t breathing or is struggling to breathe
  • Has a seizure
  • Has a swollen or bulging soft spot
  • Has an obvious head injury, like a dent, bruise, or cut

If your baby has any of these signs, don’t pick them up. Wait for the ambulance team to stabilize your baby. The only exception is if they have a seizure. In this case, you can carefully roll them over to their side while you wait for the ambulance. If they aren’t breathing, start CPR if you know how.

Next, make sure they don’t have any broken bones or fractures. Signs and symptoms of broken bones include:

  • Swelling
  • Misshapen limb
  • Trouble moving a limb 
  • Trouble bearing weight
  • Pain when you touch or move the limb
  • Paleness

If you think your baby has a broken bone, get medical help. A doctor will need to align the bone and hold it in place with a cast or sling so it can heal. It’s important to get treatment right away so that your baby doesn’t have long-term bone problems.

Check for Signs of Concussion in Your Baby

If your baby fell on their head or hit their head, they might have a concussion, which is a mild and temporary head injury. Signs and symptoms usually show up within 24 hours, but it can take up to 3 weeks. You should watch for signs of concussion in your baby, including if they:

  • Were unconscious but are now awake
  • Look dazed or shocked
  • Threw up once
  • Cry more than usual
  • Show mood or behavior changes

If your baby has signs of a concussion, go to the doctor or hospital and get them checked out. Then watch for changes in any symptoms. They will usually get better on their own over several days, though it can take up to 4 weeks to fully recover. 

Your baby will want to sleep after a concussion and there’s no need to wake them up constantly unless your doctor says to do so. But if they won't wake up or have trouble waking up, get medical help. You should also see a doctor right away if they:

  • Throw up more than once or after the fall
  • Have balance problems, if they walk
  • Have new weakness in any limbs
  • Have a seizure

Comfort Your Baby After the Fall

If your baby is alert and crying, doesn’t throw up, and doesn’t have any of the other symptoms above, pick them up and console them. If they have minor injuries or bumps, you can use some home care to soothe them.

Try a cool compress. If there’s a bruise or bump, soak a cloth in cool water and place it on the area. Re-soak it as the cloth warms up or dries out. This can help relieve pain and swelling.

Use an ice pack. An ice pack or a bag of frozen peas will also help bumps, bruises, and swelling. Wrap the pack in a light cloth or tea towel to protect the skin. 

Give your baby a pain reliever. If your baby seems in pain, you can give them a pain reliever. Babies 2 months and older can have acetaminophen and babies 3 months and older can have ibuprofen. Read the label and give the right dose. Don’t give your baby aspirin. 

Let them rest. After the fall, your baby may be tired, especially in the first 24 to 48 hours afterward. Let them rest and allow them plenty of nap time to sleep and recover.

If you try to console them but nothing seems to help, it’s a good idea to see a doctor and rule out any problems. 

Watch Your Baby Closely for 24 Hours

Sometimes your baby might seem fine after the fall, but it’s important to watch them closely for 24 hours. Injuries can take time to show up, so watch for any new or worsening signs and symptoms. 

If your baby fell on their head or has a mild and minor head injury, they might have mood or behavior changes for a few weeks. This is called cognitive fatigue, and it happens because the brain has to work harder to concentrate on tasks after an injury. Your baby might seem extra fussy or cranky or have changes in their sleep patterns. It’s common and usually gets better on its own with time.

Bottom Line

If your baby fell off the couch or bed, stay calm and check them over. While falls can cause serious injuries for babies, most falls are minor and your baby will get better on their own with rest. If they fall from over 3 feet, onto a hard surface, or have symptoms of an injury, get medical help. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles: “Common Infant and Toddler Injuries: When to Seek Medical Attention.”

Cleveland Clinic: “What to Do If Your Infant Falls Off the Bed or Changing Table.”

National Health Service: “Head injury and concussion,” “How do I know if I’ve broken a bone?” “Medicines for babies and children.”

Nemours Children’s Health: “First Aid: Falls.”

The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne: “Head injury — general advice,“ “Safety: Preventing Falls.”

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