That statement may elicit a few chuckles, but it’s also very true.
As parents, we’re constantly trying to prevent our children from getting hurt. But in the process, we tend to forget about our own physical safety — either because we’re focused on them, we’re distracted, or we’re exhausted and our Spidey senses are off.
The accidental head-butt is pretty universal in parenting land, and in addition to chipped teeth, it can cause split lips, broken noses, black eyes, and even fractured eye sockets.
Case in point: Last summer, I’d just moved, I was tired from unpacking, I got distracted when my husband came home earlier than expected… and my bouncing baby girl bounced a little too exuberantly in my direction.
Her head smacked into the underside of my jaw, grinding my teeth together and knocking out half a tooth. Thankfully, she was fine and happily playing again within minutes, but I was left with a delightful fang that needed dental attention.
The accidental head-butt is pretty universal in parenting land, and in addition to chipped teeth, it can cause split lips, broken noses, black eyes, and even fractured eye sockets. And that’s just the tip of the injury iceberg.
“You may not think it, but those little munchkins are strong!” says Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, an emergency room physician and assistant clinical professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
While there are no hard-and-fast stats on how many child-inflicted injuries bring parents to the ER every year, she cites injuries resulting from a fall — such as broken bones after stepping on toys or being thrown off balance by a toddler in a tantrum — and eye scratches as two of the most common.
“While you are remaining vigilant to protect your child from injuries, it’s important as a parent to do the same for yourself,” she adds. “And seek medical care when an injury causes severe pain that’s more than you would expect or is not getting better.”
Here are a few other injuries that you may suffer at the hands — and knees and teeth and very hard heads — of your kids, what you can do about them, and how to protect yourself from future parenting war wounds.
Can a tiny finger really do that much damage? When it’s aimed at your eye, the short answer is yes.
“When our kiddos conk us in the eye, our eyelids usually close in the milliseconds before impact,” says Long Gillespie. “But when your child is too fast or has baby-sharp nails, they can scratch your eye, leading to a corneal abrasion.”
Most corneal abrasions — which affect the eye’s transparent and protective outer layer — will heal on their own, but if the pain is severe or you experience vision changes, head to the ER.
That’s what Melissa, a mom of three from New York, had to do when she was rushing to get out the door and her toddler daughter accidentally poked her in the eye when putting her arm through her coat sleeve.
“My eye started tearing, and the pain was unbelievable,” she says. “She tore my cornea so deep, I have to use drops twice a day to keep my eye moist. The only way to fix it permanently is to have laser eye surgery.”
Long Gillespie also warns parents who wear contacts to take them out immediately in the event of an eye injury and keep them out for the duration of the healing process.
Repeat after us: You’re not in high school anymore. And no matter what kind of shape you’re in, your body isn’t what it used to be; tendons and muscles age just like the rest of you, making them more prone to injury.
Although either parent can get tendinitis — moms of newborns often get a form of it in their wrist from supporting a baby’s head — dads may need an extra reminder when attempting to keep up with their little athletes.
“Parents often start performing activities they haven’t performed in years, such as playing soccer or throwing a baseball,” says Dr. Miho Tanaka, director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program and associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, “and they often develop some form of tendinitis due to acute overuse. I have seen this occur in almost any joint — shoulder, knee, elbow, ankle.”
Rotator-cuff injuries can happen when tendinitis pops up in the shoulder, usually as a result of lifting or throwing items away from the body and overhead.
While surgery may occasionally be needed, most tendinitis calls for a combination of rest and physical therapy. To prevent injury, Tanaka advises “paying attention to pain, easing into new activities, and warming up or stretching when beginning strenuous activities.”
A kick to the groin is inevitable at some point in your parenting career. That said, the following story might make you wonder if you should start wearing a protective cup 24/7.
“My 5-year-old and I would play-wrestle and call it Bring the Thunder,” says Brian, who has two sons. “One time, I was lying in bed, trying to sleep in, and out of nowhere, I hear him go, ‘I’m bringing the thunder!’ Then he jumps full force right into ‘the boys’ with his knees. I was in a lot of pain for about a half hour, and after that, he was informed that hitting grown-ups in the private area really hurts.”
While incredibly painful, testicular injuries usually aren’t dangerous. “However, sometimes a kick or a hit by an errant baseball can cause conditions ranging from contusions to ruptures,” says Long Gillespie. “If the pain doesn’t subside, you have significant bruising to the testicles, blood in the urine, or any asymmetry of the testicles, then you should seek medical care.”
Don’t bite the hand — er, boob — that feeds you, kid.
Unfortunately, many nursing babies will do just that at some point when they start teething, and wow, does it hurt. The good news: Breastfeeding nips are rarely serious, and you can continue to nurse while you heal.
Long Gillespie recommends nursing on the side that isn’t injured first so that by the time you switch to the injured side, your baby is less voracious.
And if the bite was strong enough to break the skin? “Allow your nipple to air-dry after the feeding,” she says. “Then put expressed breastmilk or ointment on any areas that are cracked — but avoid vitamin E oil, as it can be toxic to babies.” If the bite site starts to get red, warm, or swollen, you might have an infection.
ACL and meniscus tears
These kinds of injuries sound like things only a professional athlete might incur, but parents can get them from… tripping over toys? Yes, according to Tanaka.
Another culprit: trying not to step on a child who’s suddenly underfoot and twisting your body unnaturally to avoid hurting them and falling yourself. That can cause a tear in the ACL, one of the stabilizing ligaments of the knee, or the meniscus, the knee’s cushion.
You won’t have to wonder whether or not you should get yourself checked out by a medical professional. “These types of injuries are fairly hard to miss, as they can lead to significant difficulty in walking and getting around,” says Tanaka. “In general, pain that doesn’t start improving after a week of rest, ice, or [ibuprofen] would be a good reason to see a doctor.”
Assorted breaks, bruises, and bloodied body parts
“In general, injuries often occur from uncontrolled or unpredictable movements,” says Tanaka, “so making sure that one minimizes these ‘surprises’ and avoids getting distracted is important.”
This is sometimes easier said than done, especially when young children get their hands on very hard objects and launch them in your direction without warning.
One mom recounts the time her toddler threw a remote control out of the blue and hit her square in the nose, causing profuse bleeding. A Florida dad tells a similar story about falling asleep and being awoken by two wooden blocks smashing into his mouth.
And then there are the baseball stories, including one mom who took a baseball to the lip as she threw herself in front of her younger child, Secret Service–style, to prevent him from getting hit, and another whose ankle was broken when her son was showing off his fastball but didn’t have the best aim.
The moral of these painful stories: Kids and projectiles don’t mix, so keep your eyes open and always expect the unexpected.
Despite your best efforts, you can’t always prevent a parenting injury, but you can minimize the after effects. The main rule: Don’t push through the pain, either because you feel you should tough it out or because you don’t think you can spare a minute to worry about yourself.
“Pay attention to your body, and if something hurts, take the time to address it,” says Tanaka. “Managing these problems early on can be worth avoiding having to undergo weeks of physical therapy or other medical treatments.”
A little self-care — and a lot of vigilance — can go a long way. Good luck, parents, and be careful out there!
Dawn Yanek lives in New York with her husband and their two very sweet, slightly crazy kids. Before becoming a mom, she was a magazine editor who regularly appeared on TV to discuss celebrity news, fashion, relationships, and pop culture. These days, she writes about the very real, relatable, and practical sides of parenting at Momsanity. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.