Babies aren’t just tiny adults. Their bodies work differently than ours. Their bones are softer and more flexible. While that allows them to pass through the birth canal during delivery, it also puts them at risk for fractures. What should you expect if your little one suffers a bone fracture?
Diagnosing a Broken Bone
Your little one won’t be able to tell you where it hurts, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for signs of a break. There will probably be swelling, redness, and bruising around the site of the break. The baby may be unwilling or unable to move one limb. Breaks are painful, so crying and fussing without apparent cause also can indicate a break or other injury. If you see any of these signs, you should head in to see the doctor to check for breaks.
Your doctor may physically inspect the suspected site of a break. She’ll also order x-rays to get a clear picture of the injury.
Treating the Broken Bone
Infants most often suffer broken clavicles. The clavicle connects the neck and shoulder. You may know it as your collarbone. It’s very difficult to cast or splint a bone in that position, but fortunately it’s not necessary. Your baby’s clavicle will heal on its own within a couple of weeks.
If your child has a broken clavicle, your doctor may recommend immobilizing the arm on the side of the break. You can usually do this by pinning the baby’s sleeve to the side of the shirt or onesie.
You’ll need to be extra gentle when you pick up and put down your baby. That break is painful and you don’t want to aggravate it. For the same reason, you should choose clothes that can snap or button so you don’t have to move the baby’s arm around. Other than that, you just need to keep an eye on the break to make sure it’s healing. You’ll see a lump on the site of the break within a couple of weeks. That lump is a “fracture callous” and is a sign that the bone is healing.
If your child has broken a bone other than the clavicle, a cast or splint may be required. Your doctor will set and stabilize the bone and tell you what to do to maintain the cast or splint. For example, most casts must be kept dry. You’ll have regular followup appointments to check on the progress and to change the cast or splint as necessary.
Fractures in the Long Term
Babies may have fragile bones, but they also have powerful healing capabilities. Your little one will be right as rain within a few weeks or months. In most cases, there will be no long-term effects.
What is brittle bone disease?
Any baby can suffer a fracture, but some children suffer from “osteogenesis imperfecta,” or brittle bone disease. This condition causes the bones to form improperly, making them weak and likely to break. Bone fractures in children with brittle bone disease tend to be more serious and the bone is likely to break into several pieces.
There are eight different types of brittle bone disease. Type I is the most common and is mild. It makes the bones more likely to fracture and causes muscle weakness. It may also turn the whites of the eyes blue. Other types of brittle bone disease are more serious. The most serious, Type II and Type VII, are usually lethal.
There is no definitive diagnostic test for the disease, but the symptoms are often clear. The most common symptom is unexplained bone fractures. In some cases, ultrasound may reveal numerous bone fractures while the baby is still in the womb.
Brittle bone disease is rare, but can seriously impact your little one’s life. The most serious cases are untreatable. More mild cases may benefit from courses of bisphosphonates, which are used to treat osteoporosis in adults. In addition, children with brittle bone syndrome may need mobility aids and physical therapy. Some children may benefit from surgery to implant metal rods in the bones to strengthen them.
Caring for an injured child can be a strain on your mental health and your wallet. These resources can help.
Medicare and Medicaid
Your child may need expensive treatment. Medicare and Medicaid can give you the coverage you need so you’re not stuck paying out of pocket for your little one’s care.
If your child suffers a severe fracture and is expected to suffer lifelong disability, Social Security Disability benefits can help cover the costs.
This organization provides financial assistance to the families of sick and injured children.
State Disability Services Office
Each state runs a Disability Services Office dedicated to helping disabled children and adults get the care and resources they need. Your local office can help you find doctors, therapists, and low-cost mobility assistance devices such as wheelchairs and scooters.
The emotional toll of caring for an injured child can be tough to bear. Online communities exist for families of children with every kind of injury and disability. You can find advice, support, and other resources through these online communities — and you can offer your advice and support to others.