Infant bones have a higher cartilage content than adult bones, making them more flexible but also more fragile. In an ordinary delivery, those flexible bones make it easier for the baby to pass through the birth canal. In a difficult delivery, the doctor may need to reposition the baby and may break the baby’s bones.
The good news is that most bone fractures are easily treated.
Diagnosing A Broken Bone
It can be difficult to tell when a baby might have a broken bone. In some cases, your doctor may suspect that a fracture occurred during delivery. In other cases, you’ll notice redness, swelling, or bruising or that the baby won’t move one limb. When you or your doctor suspects that your baby may have a fracture, you’ll head to the radiology department for an x-ray.
Treating The Break
The most common bone fracture in infants is the clavicle, or collarbone. The clavicle is particularly vulnerable to the twisting and pulling required by a difficult labor. For most fractures, your baby won’t need a splint or cast. You’ll just need to be extra gentle picking up and laying down your little one until the break heals on its own. In rare cases, your doctor may want to immobilize the baby’s arm on the side of the fracture. Rather than getting a newborn-sized sling, you can usually just pin the baby’s sleeve to the front of the clothes. Your doctor may also recommend anti-inflammatories or painkillers to make your baby more comfortable.
Within a few weeks, you should see a bump form over the site of the break. That’s called a “fracture callus.” It means the bone is healing properly. Until the break is completely healed, be extra gentle when lifting your baby. You’ll need to use clothes that have snaps or buttons so you don’t have to pull the baby’s arm above the head to put on or take off the clothes.
Fractures in other areas may require more treatment. Your doctor may need to realign the bones to ensure they heal in the correct position and may put your little one in a splint or cast to immobilize the break during healing. Your doctor may also recommend anti-inflammatories or painkillers.
It’s important to seek medical attention if you see any signs that your baby may have a bone fracture. Left untreated, a fracture can cause serious side effects. The broken edges of the bone may cause permanent damage to nearby nerves, muscles, and ligaments. An untreated fracture may lead the bone to heal improperly, causing a deformity. If the break is on the growth plate, that bone may never be able to grow properly. Untreated fractures can also cause blood clots. If the fracture is severe enough, the bone marrow may be exposed to the tissues and fluids outside the bone. That can lead to “osteomyelitis,” a serious bone infection. Finally, a fracture can decrease or cut off the blood flow to part of the bone. Without treatment, that part of the bone can die. This is called “avascular necrosis” or “osteonecrosis” and can result in the collapse of the bone as well as other side effects.
Broken bones are very treatable and most children recover completely within a few weeks. However, you should be alert for signs of complications. Most importantly, watch out for a fever or increased swelling or discoloration around the site of the break. This can be a sign of serious infection and requires immediate medical attention.