Jenny Mollen spoke out candidly this week after dropping her 5-year-old son Sid on his head, causing him to fracture his skull and be taken to the intensive care unit. And some parents are wondering when these types of medical measures should be taken if their own kids suffer head injuries.
While PEOPLE Health Squad Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Murray did not treat Sid nor has any knowledge of his specific case, she did open up to PEOPLE about some general advice she would give to parents whose children experience head trauma of any kind.
“Kids bump their heads all the time! They also tend to fall and hit their heads a lot too,” she says. “Because of the high frequency in which children hurt their heads, there are a ton of data for physicians to use to help decide what type of care is needed for a child after a fall.”
“It turns out that very few need to have a computerized tomography (CT) scan done, and that’s a good thing!” Dr. Murray continues. “We don’t want to expose a child to the radiation of a CT scan unless we think we will find something that will change how we care for the child.”
“The majority of the time, after we evaluate a child, we determine that the best thing is to treat any pain from the fall and observe the child for a few hours,” she explains.
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One of the first questions Dr. Murray asks herself is how old a patient is — namely, because babies need “to be evaluated right away” after enduring a hit on the head of any kind.
“Infants are just too different from toddlers and older children,” she tells PEOPLE. “It is important to remember that without fail, your baby will probably roll for the first time when you least expect it. As such, never leave a baby alone on a couch or bed, as a fall from that height could cause injury.”
“Toddlers toddle! They hit their head on everything because their foreheads are just the perfect height to hit table corners and other furniture,” says Dr. Murray. “The good news is our bodies are designed to take forehead bumps and bruises pretty well. So in most cases, a hit to the forehead, even if there is bruising, is going to be okay.”
She explains that “it is almost impossible for a child to cause serious injury by falling from standing,” so an important thing to consider is how high up the child was when the incident occurred — however, “Falling from a standing height and hitting their head on a sharp rock is a little different. In general, a fall from standing is going to be okay unless they land on a sharp object.”
“Bruising and swelling to the forehead in a child that is acting normally after they calm down is usually fine,” Dr. Murray says of another post-fall symptom to watch for. “I get concerned when there is injury to the other parts of the head and it feels squishy when I touch it. Usually when you get a ‘goose egg’ after a fall, it feels pretty firm. Squishy bruises on the head need to be evaluated.”
“How is the child acting? Crying for a few minutes is normal and then being a little sleepy after calming down can be normal, too, for toddlers and younger children,” she advises. “Think about how you feel after an adrenaline rush starts to go away. When we think about alertness or level of consciousness, concerning signs are not subtle. If a child is knocked out, starts to have a seizure or is truly acting very unusual, they need immediate evaluation.”
While vomiting can be a normal emotional reaction to an injury, Dr. Murray warns that “many episodes of vomiting” or “uncontrollable vomiting” is something to be more concerned about.
“Don’t worry about the pupils. Leave this part of the exam to the experts,” she insists. “Too often, parents worry that their child’s pupils seem large or uneven, yet the child is otherwise acting completely normal. This is one of those ‘TV show symptoms’ that your doctor will handle.”
“At the end of the day, as a parent, you know your child best and you know your comfort level best. If something doesn’t seem right to you, reach out to your pediatrician (yes, we are fine with taking calls from our patients at night) or seek care at a local emergency department,” Dr. Murray says.
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Mollen, 39, recalled her family’s “traumatic” situation on Instagram Wednesday night, explaining that her older son, whom she shares with husband Jason Biggs, had been in the intensive care unit earlier this week.
“I am forever grateful to Lenox Hill downtown and @nyphospital for their immediate response and aid,” she captioned a post, which showed herself flashing a somber smile while holding Sid, whose face was covered with an emoji. (Biggs and Mollen do not show photos of their children’s faces on social media.)
“Thank you to all of the nurses, neurologists, pediatricians, residents, cafeteria staff and brave women that keep the visitor’s bathroom clean. Not sure how this post turned into an Oscars acceptance speech … But @biggsjason Thank god for you! Thank god, thank god, thank god,” the actress and author continued.
“It has been a traumatic week,” Mollen admitted.
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Hours after her Instagram post, celebrities like Krysten Ritter, Angela Kinsey, Rachel Bilson and Claire Holt left numerous supportive comments for the mom of two. (Mollen and Biggs, 40, also share 18-month-old son Lazlo.)
“Oh my god Jenny that is so scary and I’m so sorry you guys are going through this. Fast recovery for Sid! Sending love ❤️❤️❤️,” wrote Ritter, 37, who is currently pregnant with her first child.
“@jennymollen sending you and your family my love,” chimed in mother of one Kinsey, 47. “I am so glad Sid is okay!! That must have been so scary. As parents we try our best but things can go south in a split second. Thank you for sharing. ❤️”
Erika Christensen, who is mom to two daughters, praised Mollen’s “good work” for “getting life back on track” since the Saturday incident, adding, “Jesus, it makes me cry. 🙌🏼”
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