16 jun. 2009

When babies attack: Labor pain is just the start

Jacqueline Stenson

While other moms were enjoying being pampered on Mother’s Day, Hilary Wheeler Miller was nursing a broken nose that she suffered after being headbutted by her 3-year-old son.

“He stood up really fast and just plowed into my nose,” says the 40-year-old mom from Littleton, Colo.

As a result of the accident, Miller’s nose is now broken in two places and she’ll need surgery later this month to straighten it.

After an emergency C-section for her son’s delivery, Miller thought the worst of baby-induced pain was behind her. But childbirth was just the start.

Miller also got a fat, black-and-blue lip when Nicholas bit her as an infant. During a later roller-skating outing, he pulled her down and she shattered her right wrist, requiring a cast for two months. Miller also has been sickened with various illnesses that her son picked up at daycare, including strep throat, three rounds of pink eye, and a severe case of bronchitis that took months to treat.

“Never once did I imagine having a child would be hazardous to my health,” she says. Today, though, there’s an “ongoing saga of danger surrounding my life now that I have a child.”

Advice books, magazines and Web sites for new parents talk at great length about the aches and pains of pregnancy and childbirth, and the subsequent sleep deprivation and exhaustion. But beyond that, parents are more likely to learn the hard way about various other owies that babies and young children can innocently inflict.

Teeny-tiny terrors
Parents who’ve been knocked around a few times by tiny tots quickly find themselves strategizing about how to deflect flailing arms and legs, flying toys and utensils, razor-sharp fingernails and fists that tighten around strands of hair like a Vise-Grip — and then pull! They search for ways to ease the pain of strained backs from endless hours of carrying around youngsters (often only on one hip, which makes matters worse) and strained necks from gazing at baby while feeding (which is widely recommended for promoting parent-infant bonding).

Miller family
Courtesy of Hilary Wheeler Miller
Hilary Wheeler Miller nurses her broken wrist while she watches her son, Nicholas, play in the sandbox. Nicholas broke his mom's wrist when he pulled her down during a roller-skating outing.

And when moms and dads drop their guard and take a finger to the eye, a blow to the head or a kick to the groin, they see stars — and not little twinkling ones.

Kris Cambra was in so much pain in April when her 2-year-old son, Truman, poked her in the eye, that she went to the emergency room.

“Think of having a paper cut on your eye,” says Cambra, 34, of New Bedford, Mass., who was diagnosed with a corneal abrasion.

“The doctor used an ultraviolet light to look at my eye and then she said, ‘Yep, you have a scratch on your cornea and it's shaped just like a fingernail,’" she says.

Thankfully, Cambra doesn’t have any lasting eye damage. But the experience has heightened her awareness of the need to stay on guard with her son, who she says is more physical and prone to tantrums and flailing than her daughter, 7, ever was. “You think, you outweigh them, you’re much bigger than them, so what can they really do to you?” A lot, actually.

Judy Ward, a pediatric nurse at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, says she’s heard about a range of child-induced injuries from parents who’ve called into the hospital’s Answer Line with questions about child health and behavior over the last 12 years that she’s fielded calls.

Her first bit of advice: “They probably didn’t mean it when they headbutted you.”

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