If you break a bone, you know it. You can tell a doctor where it hurts. You can feel that something isn’t right. When a baby breaks a bone, it’s much harder to tell. They only communicate by crying, so it’s tough to know whether they’re hungry, tired, or in pain. They don’t move around much, so they don’t give obvious signs like limping. When a baby’s bone is broken, how can you tell?
The Easy Cases
Sometimes, it’s easy to tell the baby has a broken bone because the doctor feels it happen during delivery. If the doctor is turning or twisting the baby into a better position, she may feel the bone break. Your baby will need an x-ray after delivery to determine the location and severity of the break.
If you and the doctor don’t know the baby has broken a bone, there are still other signs to watch out for. If your labor was difficult, you’ll need to be particularly vigilant for the symptoms of a break.
Swelling, redness, and bruising will likely occur near the site of the break. The site will be tender to the touch, so your baby will cry if you touch that area or move a nearby limb. Babies may also be unwilling or unable to use a limb if it’s broken, so watch out for one arm or leg that stays still. Sometimes the baby will be able to move the affected limb, so you should still watch for the other symptoms.
If your child has any symptoms of bone fracture, you should seek immediate medical attention. First, fractures are painful and should be set properly to alleviate pain. In addition, untreated fractures can cause serious side effects including nerve damage, blood clots, infection, deformity, and more.
Types of Fractures
The type of fracture your baby suffered will determine how painful it is, how difficult it is to treat, and whether there is any risk of long-term consequences. The two main types of bone fractures are simple and compound. A simple fracture is a broken bone that doesn’t break the skin. A compound fracture is one that does break the skin. Almost all infant bone fractures are simple fractures.
There are several types of simple fractures. One of the most common in infants is the “greenstick fracture,” where the bone breaks on one side – picture bending a green twig until it starts to break. “Torus fractures” are also common and occur when the bone is twisted and weakened but doesn’t actually break. Similarly, “bend fractures” occur when the bones are bent and damaged but not broken. In rare cases, an infant may suffer a “growth-plate fracture.” The growth plate is the area at the end of a bone that controls the bone’s growth. A growth plate fracture requires careful treatment because damage to the growth plate impacts the bone’s ability to grow in the future.
Fractures caused by brittle bone disease or other bone defects are called “pathological fractures.” These fractures often cause the bone to break into several pieces.