Your baby has a head injury -- what should you do?

by Julie Snyder

Baby Head InjuryYou hear a "thunk!" and then the screaming begins.

Your baby tipped over backwards, missing the pillow you so carefully placed behind her. Is she hurt? Is it serious? Is your home safe?

A baby rolls a couple feet off the couch or falls from a chair and the injuries are mild.

In rare cases, head trauma can directly injure or cause bleeding around the brain.

When your baby hits their head, you can ask these two questions to help you decide the risk of serious complications. How did the injury occur? How did your child behave after the injury?

When baby goes boom

Most serious head injuries in young children are caused by falls or abuse. The more force involved, the more likely a serious injury to the brain occurs

Types of injuries

Your baby's skull and scalp protect his or her precious brain. It takes a significant amount of force to cause detrimental injury. Low-force head injuries don't usually cause damage.

Low-force head trauma:
• Your baby fell less than five feet
• Your baby was hit by a slowly moving object
• Your baby hit a soft object or soft toy

High-impact injury:
• Your baby fell more than five feet
• Your baby was struck by a fast moving or heavy object
• Your baby was involved in a vehicle crash

High-impact Injuries have a greater risk of causing significant brain injury. Your doctor should evaluate your baby after a bad fall.

Your baby's behavior after the accident

If you think your baby has a brain injury, but you're not sure, look for these signs and symptoms.

Swelling: The scalp contains many blood vessels. You might see a large bruise or bump. The bump alone doesn't increase the chance of brain injury or bleeding around the brain.

Vomiting: About 10 percent of kids without a serious injury vomit after head trauma. If your child's vomiting persists or re-occurs, it could signal a more serious injury.

Loses consciousness: About 5 percent of kids with mild head trauma pass out after the injury. If your baby loses consciousness after a head injury, have a doctor evaluate them right away.

Seizures: Less than 1 percent of children experience a seizure after a head injury. Since seizure can be a direct result of trauma or bleeding around the brain, a physician should see your child.

When to call the doctor

• Your baby is less than 6 months old
• Blood or water fluid comes out of ears or nose
• Your baby fell more than five feet
• A heavy or fast-moving object hit your baby
• Your child has recurrent vomiting, a seizure or loses consciousness
• Your baby seems overly sleepy, confused or clumsy when crawling or walking

Monitoring and treating your baby's head injury

If the injury is low-force and baby's behavior doesn't indicate severe trauma, you can monitor and treat a head bump at home. Try to keep your baby occupied with quiet activities.

To reduce swelling and decrease pain, apply an ice or cold pack to the injury for 15 to 20 minutes.

Head wounds bleed heavily because the face and scalp have tons of blood vessels close to the skin's surface. You can stop the bleeding by applying pressure to the cut with a bandage, cloth or sterilized fingers. Hold in place for 5 to 10 minutes. Don't peek. Releasing pressure on the wound can dislodge the clot and start the bleeding again.

If your baby is hurting, use the age-appropriate dose of acetaminophen. After 24 hours you can give an older baby ibuprofen. Watch your baby carefully for 24 hours. Take your child to the doctor immediately if any of these symptoms occur: ✔ Persistent vomiting ✔ Confusion ✔ Overly sleepy ✔ Difficulty walking or crawling ✔ Seizure

How do you keep your injured baby quiet for a few hours? Share your "quiet time for baby" tips!

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.