Falls Are the Top Cause of Head Injuries in Babies

A new report reveals the top cause of head injuries in babies and toddlers.

toddler climbing the stairs Getty Images: Chris Fertnig

Falls are the number one cause of head injuries in children, according to new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. For babies and toddlers under the age of two, falls account for 77 percent of head injuries, with the majority of those cases, 54 percent, due to tumbles from an elevation and the next highest cause due to falls down the stairs, according to Dr. Kimberly Quayle, study author and associate professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo.

Researchers pooled data from 2004 to 2006 from emergency rooms across 25 U.S. hospitals. The findings also revealed that of the approximately 43,000 children studied, 16,000 required a CT scan—32 percent of those under the age of two.

But before you bubble wrap your baby, keep this in mind: Not every spill requires a frantic dash to the doctor. "I'm really looking for two things: the distance of the fall (a distance greater than the child's height is a good rule of thumb) and the surface the child fell onto," said Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician and author of the book series Baby 411. If you're concerned you should always call your doctor, but these are the symptoms Brown looks for to indicate a more-serious head injury:

  • Loss of consciousness after the injury.
  • Vomiting more than once after the fall.
  • If you child is acting abnormal or confused.
  • If your child is struggling to walk, talk or see.

"But no matter how good of a parent you are and how safety-proofed your house is, things happen," Brown said. However, there are some things you can do to help prevent a fall. Here are her tips.

Put down the phone

Save texts for after you're done changing your baby. Even if your child doesn't seem to move much, it only takes an instant for her to decide to take a dive.

Keep your baby secure

If you're using a swing, bouncy seat, high chair or any piece of baby gear that requires your baby to be buckled or fastened in, make sure you're properly using it.

Move diaper changes

When your baby starts getting mobile consider moving changes to the floor on a towel or changing pad.

For a complete list of symptoms and other information about brain injuries, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.