Anxiety about Babies' & Toddlers' Accidents

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Repeated falls in Toddler, and my anxiety

Oct 2012

I feel really ashamed. I have a 3-year-old son with severe autism who demands a lot of time and attention. As a result, I worry my one-year-old who may or may not have special needs isn't getting the care she needs. I love her so much; from the moment I knew I was pregnant with her, I worried about her. I was eventually diagnosed with OCD, as my worries about her became so severe they impacted my functioning.

Now my daughter, who is 15 months, appears to be doing fairly well, but she has had a number of falls. I can't tell if the falls are more frequent than in other children or if I just worry more and rush her to urgent care too much. She has fallen from our bed a few times, but our bed is less than 2 ft off the floor. The one serious fall she had was out of her crib, and we immediately rushed her to the ER and then lowered her crib mattress. She's had smaller falls in play, but I've taken her to urgent care if she gets a bump.

Now the ped says she wants to talk with my husband and me about the number of falls. I am so worried my daughter now has brain damage from the falls and that I am a terrible parent. I am already very depressed and anxious and feeling like I can't manage anything else. I feel so ashamed even writing to all of you, but I really need advice. Do other toddlers fall often from small heights (2ft or so)? Do you take them to urgent care each time? I just feel like the world's worst mother.

You know, since my son was between 3 to now (about to be 5)he has probably fallen a million times. He'd be walking and fall, running and fall, standing and fall...he's kind of rolled off the couch, rolled off the bed, and just the other day swooped down onto his butt. I used to think that he was just ridiculously uncoordinated, but really, this is what toddlers do, they fall down. Think about it-as an adult, this is uncommon, but little people learning how to control their bodies fall down. We've never taken him to urgent care for any of these events- there's never been a need.

I'm concerned by your question b/c of a couple of things: you say my daughter who ''may or may not have special needs'' and discuss that your worrying about her became disruptive, and that you're bringing her to urgent care constantly and consistently for nonissues. Your pediatrician wants to talk to you, and you have instantly decided your baby has traumatic brain injury.

It must be really difficult and overwhelming to deal with your older child as the main care giver. I can see how this would increase your anxiety about your baby. It may be worth considering getting into come kind of cognitive behavioral therapy to work on reducing anxiety. Letting your daughter just be who she is, while making sure that she is doing it in a safe environment should be the goal, not being consumed by anxiety and constantly bringing her into the doctors for every little bump and bruise. Basically, what I am saying is that I think the issue is you, not her. Dealing with it ASAP will be best for all of you. Psych Nurse Dad

Your anxiety comes through loud and clear in your post. And that is not something I can offer advice on, but I do hope you are receiving help for it (meds, therapy, whatever it takes). Regarding toddlers and falls, yes, kids fall. I have three kids and I have never taken them to urgent care or the ER for falls, even for blood-on-the-face falls. My third child in particular seems more clumsy than most and throughout her toddlerhood had bruises and bumps on her forehead. She fell off the couch a few times (totally my fault). So I guess what I'm saying is that toddler falls are normal, but taking them to urgent care each time is not. So your pediatrician is rightfully concerned, but I'm thinking he/she is more concerned with your reaction than with the actual falls. Not sure I'm helping at all here, but please do try to get that anxiety under control--sounds like a terrible burden. Mom of 3 former toddlers

It is hard to say whether your child's falls and their frequency are of concern given the limited info you provided, but my hunch is that the main problem is your anxiety and depression. Toddlers fall all the time. All. The. Time. My daughter fell off the bed three or four times, twice as an infant. Once she crawled out of her crib and fell. And she sported a number of shiners on her forehead, espeicially, when she took tumbles at the playground and even off our couch. It was, of course, scary and anxiety provoking, and I frantically looked through the Internet for signs of concussion as I was trying to comfort the poor baby. But in the end, I did not take her to the ER. Instead, I consulted with the advice nurse the couple of times I was freaked out beyond ''average.'' To ahve taken her to the ER each time she had a fall would have been excessive and created a whole lot more stress than the fall initially caused.

Your pediatrician's interest is probably aroused because you are taking your child in way more than the ''average'' parent, and that tells her that a problem is amiss - either in terms of abuse, or parental issues, such as Munchhausen Syndrome by proxy. I am not at all suggesting that you are guilty of either, but letting you know what she might be trying to rule out at this point. public health civil servant

Dear Renee, In my experience, a special needs child can sometimes cause parents to doubt their abilities with their other children. Anxiety, of course, makes it worse as it can magnify worries and make it difficult for parents to know what is a reasonable response to a situation. It sounds like you are going through a rough time and could use some support to lift the veil of worry, learn to trust your instincts again, and feel better as a parent. S.

I am sure you will get many responses, but no, you are not the world's worst mother - I think the worry about falls is, as you suspect, just part of the anxiety/OCD (and perhaps even PTSD) constellation of symptoms. It is very normal to have concerns around one's parenting, but I suspect your concerns are .

The # of falls sounds within normal range to me. Most of these do not warrant a trip to Urgent Care. You can call your pediatrician's advice line if you are unsure - they can give you signs/symptoms to look out for and tell you how to proceed. You don't specify whether or not baby is falling during sleep, or while playing and if there are large bumps/knots on head? Many (most?) children will have falls like this at some point in time - at 15 months, falling from 2 ft is not that high and VERY unlikely to cause brain damage. I imagine ped. IS concerned re: # of urgent care visits and just wants to further assess what's happening. Compassionate citizen & therapist

I'm sorry you are having these concerns. You are NOT a bad mother! Repeat to yourself -- You are not a bad mother. From what you wrote you sound like a caring, compassionate woman who wants the best for her children. My 15 month old falls and has had a LOT of bumps and bruises. If yo think about it at that age they are still just learning to walk and are bound to have problems in the beginning! At first I was really anxious about it, but over time have started to relax. Unless there is some real obvious bleeding or brain injury problems, I don't worry. You can look in childrens health books or online for tell tale signs of when to worry. Children are very resilient -- thank goodness! Maybe therapy might help with some anxiety and concerns related to these issues? Sounds like it could really help. Like I said though, you sound like a wonderful mother who loves her children very much! Best wishes mamma!

Guilt over baby's fall down stairs

Dec 1999

hi. I have an 11 month old baby, and yesterday she fell down the stairs in my house. I had removed the gate for a little time and she just managed to get to the stairs during those few minutes. I didn't see how whe fell, but I think she took a somersault, she had a bump on her forehead but I saw her landing on the back of her head. She cried for a few minutes and is fine since. But I feel like my body and spirit have died. I know she's ok, but I cant help fearing that her brain got hurt. I called the nurses hotline in childrens hospital oakland and they gave me a list of things to look out for. Thankfully, all her movements, everything looks fine. Has this happened with anybody else. I cant stop thinking about it and cry everytime I do. will someone please tell me that this happens and its ok?

baby getting hurt. relax. I had several such scares. My child gets more fearless by the minute. you learned the gate lesson the hard way and now itll pray on your mind so you wont have to learn the othe lessons so difficultly like hot cup of coffee spilt or the falling in the toilet lesson thats an ugly one i didnt have to suffer through. My daughter can get up and down stairs on her own now and i removed that gates sometime ago. A friend was over with her yonger child who preceeed to topple down the stairs in an awful neck stretching summersault. I caught her but not before both mommy and i had visions of her breaking her neck. babies are apparently more resilent then mommies. both our babies are find despite lots of awful tumbles. carpet gives wood even gives. cement on the other hand does not. so atch out and relax a little your in store for more of the same.

Please don't beat yourself up over this. I think every parent has had that horrible experience of feeling responsible for some mishap that hurt their child. It is part of being a parent. But remember that babies and toddlers are very resilient - they have this amazing capacity to walk away from accidents practically unhurt - and it's a good thing, too, in the case of toddlers- they can really get into trouble in the blink of an eye. But even babies can bounce right back from what seems like a terrible accident. A few years ago I was hanging out in the front yard with my school-aged kids - it was a weekend day and all the neighborhood kids were out playing. A mother with a newborn, just leaving from a visit with my next-door neighbors, was putting her baby into the car seat when somehow the baby slipped out of her arms and fell headfirst onto the street. The mother scooped it up, but it was lying in her arms very still with its eyes closed. She was of course hysterical, and she was frozen on the spot. I went into panic mode too - I assumed the worst - I had no idea what to do and thought I might faint. One of the older kids, of clearer mind than any of the adults, ran to get another neighbor who happened to be a pediatric psychiatrist at Children's Hospital. He checked out the baby, reassured the mother that babies almost always recover fine from head bonks, and drove her to Children's, calling ahead first. The baby was completely fine, was back to normal by the time they arrived at the hospital, and just had a bump on its head. I felt so bad for that mother - a parent's worst nightmare is to drop the baby. But things like that happen to the best of us, no matter how careful we are. So we just have to keep doing the best we can, and admit that sometimes accidents happen, and we make mistakes, and that's just how it is. So give your child a kiss and be glad she is fine, and keep on doing the best you can.

It happens. I managed to drop my son out of a car seat onto a concrete sidewalk when he was under a year old (he's 7 now). He fell on his head, and I was absolutely terrified. It happened right next to a payphone, and for the first and only time in my life the Kaiser Advice line nurses answered on the first ring. As with you, they recommended watching his behavior closely for the next few days. My wife and I brought him in to Kaiser anyway for them to look at him. He ended up being fine - no concussion or other detectable effect.

Welcome to every parent's pain of knowing you cannot protect your child from everything. It gets worse -- bites at pre-school, wounding words from friends in kindergarten, broken teeth from skateboard falls, and on and on. We all do the best we can, but we can't protect our kids from everything. I tripped on the stairs while carrying my oldest son when he was a newborn, and he hit his head; he was fine but I felt destroyed. My second son rode his new Christmas tricycle down the stairs at 15 months and looked like a Klingon for weeks after. It hurt us to look at him -- especially my nanny and my husband, who were there when it happened and felt terribly responsible. But he was fine, and learned a healthy respect for stairs; he has never gone down them the wrong way since. So forgive yourself, let it go, and enjoy your child's growing independence -- with all the hazards it brings.

My baby fell off the washer dryer where I was changing him when he was about 5-6 mos. I know exactly how you feel - from terrified and extremely worried to incredibly guilty. One of the big things to look for is whether they cry hard for more than 15 min. in addition to the other signs you've had checked out. Since you said your baby just cried for a few minutes I think she's fine. Mine was. Those little heads are actually kind of hard. Nature knows these things can happen even with the most careful moms.

To the Parent whose 11-month old fell down the stairs: my 3-yr old son fell down the stairs to our garage on his first birthday (landed on the concrete garage floor). He cried furiously, but did not show any of the danger signs the advice line warned you about. Our feelings matched yours exactly -- it was a rough few days. He really was okay, though. Now, two years later, my heart still sinks when I think about that fall, but, with hindsight, I also know how lucky we were. It sounds like your child is really okay, too. Hang in there. As each day passes and she's just her regular sweet self, you'll be more able to chalk it off to the hard work of parenting.

THIS HAPPENS! My son fell out of a hammock when he was 5 months old, off the bed a couple of times in his first year, down the stairs at least twice, off a bench in the backyard (which resulted in a recommendation for stiches) and numerous other falls. He is particularly active and adventurous, and seems to take it all in stride. Of course, these things could have and perhaps should have been prevented, but other than the serious cut on the forehead at 15 months from falling off the bench, I don't beat myself up about it. I know what you mean about feeling your body and spirit have died though, as that's how I felt when my son's forehead was cut. Five months later, he still has a faint scar, and may have all his life. But stairs? I'm curious what other will say, but I think most of our babies have fallen down stairs.

Kids will have lots of accidents as you go along. My first daughter fell out of a baby sling at 2 months onto the kitchen floor. My heart stopped and I felt guilty for months. Now that she's 4 the incident has entered into our family lore. Whenever she does something wacky my husband reminds of the time 'I dropped the baby on the floor'. You do get over it. My second daughter (17 months) fell down a couple of stairs last month. My mother who had 4 children commented on how amazingly 'flexible' kids are at that age, my sisters and I are all fine as adults. I wouldn't be concerned as long as your daughter is not showing any warning signs of serious damage.

To the person concerned about their hurt baby: I fell off of tables and couches when I was a baby and am fine. I've also once dropped my son straight on his head and he's fine... very intelligent... a little silly, but fine! :0)

If everything is fine, then don't worry yourself about it. My 4 year old daughter fell (actually rolled) down about 5 steps when she was a baby. I really can't remember how old she was but was in the crawling stage. She was crawling up the stairs with me sitting above her. I guess I must have stood up and so did she, but she leaned backwards and over she went. I was horrified and I couldn't catch her since I was above her. She cried for a few minutes and has been just fine. Kids are going to get cuts, scrapes, and bruises as they try new things and they and you will survive it all. And remember, stay below them on the stairs when going up.

My 16-month-old child has had several bad falls on his head and seems none the worse for it. His little cousin of the same age has had stitches 3 times already! But she seems to be just thriving. It's so easy to feel guilty as a parent, and of course we want to minimize the bumps and do our best to make sure nothing serious happens, but most of the time the children just bounce right back. It helps me to just find a place in myself that can trust in life and let go, just knowing I'll do my best and that mostly my child will find his own way no matter what I do anyway.

I was changing our one year old son's diaper and, while I was reaching for a fresh diaper, he managed to roll over and off of the bureau we used as a changing table. I saw him falling through the air -- three feet straight down! He screamed and cried and as I held him and checked him out, I was crying, too, though trying not to freak him out further. It was a horrible moment, as you can imagine. I called the doctor, as you did, monitored him and found no abnormal symptoms. He's seven years old now and an extremely healthy, bright and happy boy. I think I know exactly how scared you felt and may continue to feel about your child's tumble, but my experience tells me that -- with luck -- children can escape such accidents with no lasting effects. In your case and mine, it seems, luck was with us. The more lasting effect may be on you. My heart goes out to you as you feel the aftershocks. If the incident serves as a cautionary experience (as mine did), raising your awareness of how quickly things can happen with children without turning you into a paranoid wreck, it may actually safeguard your child's future. Good luck.

Our daughter fell out of her high chair and landed on her head when she was less than a year old -- we'd left her strapped in but she had somehow managed to wriggle out. The worst of it was that we (her parents) had left her on her own in the kitchen because we were having a huge yelling argument in the next room. We did the same as you -- called Children's Hospital, watched out for signs of brain damage -- there were none and she was fine. (She's now 4.) We felt _unbelievably_ guilty!!! Just like you, for a day or two I cried whenever I thought about it. But I am sure this kind of thing happens a lot. Accidents happen to everyone, and babies are very resilient (they evolved to be that way). I understand your feeling terrible, but don't beat yourself up about it any more. Your baby is obviously none the worse for the experience -- it was probably more of a shock to your system than it was to hers.

Regarding the baby who fell down the stairs. It is awful when it happens, but yes, it does happen to every baby. Even when we are ever vigilant, things happen and the babies fall down, fall of beds, fall out of highchairs, etc. Try not to beat yourself up about it. Your baby will recover from all of her falls and bumps long before you do!

The very same thing happened to my 10-month-old daughter about three weeks ago. We had just installed our upstairs gate and I ran down to get something and came back, forgetting to latch it. My husband and I weren't paying close attention and the next thing we knew the baby was tumbling down our (carpeted) stairs. My heart stopped and I'm convinced I lost several years of my life. She was screaming, naturally, which lasted maybe 90 seconds, but she appeared completely unhurt. I also called Children's and the nurse told me what to look for. We monitored her and could see no ill effects. Of course I felt like the world's worst mom but I've talked to lots of parents since and I'm fairly confident that, yes, these things happen, and yes, she'll be OK. I know just how you feel!

My child catapulted out of his baby carrier/car seat at 2 months, landing face first in a gravelly, oily parking space! His face was covered with blood and his lip was so swollen and bruised that nursing was difficult for a few days. His doctor was so sweet to me about it, explained that the first wake-up call fall happens to every parent. Parental guilt can far outlast the child's pain! He's a brilliant, thriving 5 year old now. All we can do is learn from our mistakes.