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Weird Baby Emergencies

Baby Emergencies

When you daydreamed about being a mom, you probably conjured up reveries of snuggling with your little one before bedtime, giggling together in the bath, and making goo-goo faces as you pushed the stroller around town. Prying Barbie stilettos out of teeny nostrils or checking that the pennies he ingested came out the other end -- not so much. But this ridiculous kind of stuff actually happens quite often.

"Young children are constantly exploring," says Joseph Wright, M.D., professor of pediatrics, emergency medicine, and health policy at George Washington University Schools of Medicine and Public Health, in Washington, D.C. "They're curious about their body and everything around them, so whatever they can reach is fair game for investigation."

Most of the time, these bizarre predicaments work out just fine, leaving you with nothing more than a funny story to embarrass your child with when she's grown. But there can be serious consequences, which is why we created this guide to oddball baby emergencies. Enjoy a chuckle (our tales all had a happy ending), but remember our advice so you'll know what to do if a similar hitch happens to you.

Swallowing Strange Stuff

He did what?!

Mom Jenni Southard, of Loveland, Colorado, thought she had thoroughly babyproofed her home for her 11-month-old son, Cameron, but overlooked holiday decorations. "One day I heard coughing," Southard recalls. "I ran to the living room and noticed a piece of glass from our tree lights next to Cameron. He seemed fine, but I called my pediatrician, who said there wasn't much to be done beyond making sure he didn't have bloody stool." The next day, she found glass in Cameron's diaper but no blood; her son was otherwise unharmed.

It's not news that babies and toddlers like to learn and soothe themselves by putting things in their mouth, but some of the stuff kids swallow can amaze even the experts. Leslie Mihalov, M.D., chief of emergency medicine at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio, recalls an X-ray that showed 30 or so small marbles -- the kind often used to decorate flower vases -- sitting neatly in a child's digestive tract.

Worst-case scenario

The immediate danger, of course, is that the object will block the airway. And if it's stuck in the esophagus, it can irritate the lining or compress the neighboring trachea. In most cases, whatever your child swallows will eventually make an exit. "Once it's entered the intestines, it's likely to simply pass through," Dr. Wright says.

Certain objects cause docs extra concern: Button batteries can erode quickly, damaging the lining of the digestive tract. Sharp items can cause a laceration. If your child swallows more than one magnet, they can spur the intestines to become kinked or twisted, which may lead to an obstruction. Eating too much of something that's not meant for munching at all -- such as sand or loose carpet fibers -- can also have consequences. Jim Schmidt, M.D., cofounder of WellHomeCheck.org, a website that helps parents childproof, once treated a kid who ate so much sand that it congealed into a ball and got stuck in his stomach. Not exactly a day at the beach!

What to do

It's okay to wait a day or two for the object to pass as long as you haven't seen symptoms and your baby hasn't swallowed a battery, magnet, or anything sharp, Dr. Mihalov says. But if he starts to drool excessively, choke, vomit, or have abdominal pain, take him to the E.R. immediately. If the culprit doesn't come out in his diaper, he'll likely need an X-ray to see if it's jammed in the digestive tract.

Avoid an oops

"You never know what a child might find to stick somewhere, so it's important to always be on alert," says pediatrician Jennifer Trachtenberg, M.D., author of The Smart Parent's Guide to Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents. Keep objects that could fit through a toilet-paper tube out of reach, and offer your infant a pacifier if he has a penchant for sucking on nonedibles. Do a couch check at night, and remove any small items stuck in the cushions. It's also smart to childproof generally baby-free zones like your home office (staples for snacks, anyone?). And just in case, take an infant CPR class (or study our first aid instructions below as a refresher).

Putting Things Up Her Nose

She did what?!

Amanda Green, of Oran, Missouri, can clearly recall when her then 18-month-old daughter, Makinzy, began using her nasal passages for storage. "First it was bits of the Halloween decorations. Then she started in on her sister's beads, which we thought we had kept out of reach. We could tell because her nose looked bigger on one side." In one week, Green says, they went to the E.R. four times to have the beads extracted. "The doctors wrapped her in a blanket so she couldn't squirm and used tiny forceps to pull them out. Once, they removed three beads. It was only when we got home that I realized they had missed one!"

Worst-case scenario

Although there is a slight risk of choking, an infection is the chief concern. "An object buried deep in the nostrils can block the nasal secretions, and the nostrils may then become laden with bacteria," Dr. Schmidt says. If your child has a runny nose coming from only one nostril -- possibly accompanied by a strong odor -- there's a good chance something's up there.

What to do

As long as your baby is cooperative and you can see whatever is hiding out in her nostril, you can try to remove the castaway with flat-tipped tweezers. Just be careful not to push it farther into the nose. Some items, especially food such as bread or beans, can expand with moisture, so you may need to use a bulb syringe to suck them out. No luck? Call your doc or go to the E.R.

Avoid an oops

Keep small objects out of reach, and if you catch your kid primed for nasal explorations, explain emphatically that she should never put anything up her nose. It's for smelling, not stuffing!

Inserting Oddities in Her Ears

She did what?!

Tammy Forrest, of Saginaw, Michigan, thought it was cute when her then 15-month-old daughter, Bailey, started holding her toy cell phone to her head and saying "hi," but she began to worry when that wasn't the only thing going near her ear. "Almost anything will find its way in, whether it's a raisin or a scrap of paper," Forrest says.

After noses, ears are the most popular places for babies to bury their treasures. "They're trying to figure out how different items feel, and think nothing of shoving part of their lunch into the ear canal," Dr. Schmidt says.

Worst-case scenario

Pushing on an object in the ear canal can cause it to become lodged deeper and may puncture the eardrum. If the object stays in too long and bacteria builds up, that can also spur an infection.

What to do

Other than small batteries, which can cause damage in a matter of hours, an item in the ear rarely requires an E.R. trip, Dr. Schmidt says. It's fine to visit the pediatrician, who will use special tools to remove it.

Avoid an oops

The same rules you follow to prevent choking apply to ears too. And always supervise your tot at mealtime to make sure finger foods go in the correct orifice.

Locking You Out

She did what?!

When Beth Kai, of Fort Worth, was seven months pregnant with twins, she went outside to throw her 2-year-old Gracie's dirty diaper into the garbage. The front door wouldn't open and she realized with horror that Gracie had locked the door. "I had to scale the fence into my backyard, then climb through my bedroom window," she laughs. "Now I always keep a spare key outside!"

Worst-case scenario

If a child is locked in a car on a hot day, the temperature inside can rise quickly and she can suffer hyperthermia and even die.

What to do

Talk to your child to keep her calm while you free her. If she's trapped in a bathroom or bedroom, you may need a locksmith, but usually you can pop the lock yourself. (Many internal locks have a feature that lets you stick a pin or paper clip inside a hole to disengage the mechanism.) If she's stuck in the car or you're locked out of your house, dial 911.

Avoid an oops

Make sure all doors with locks inside your home can be opened from either side. And take a cue from Kai and hide a front door key outside, or give one to a neighbor. (Same goes for your car keys.)

Getting His Fingers Caught

He did what?!

Dr. Schmidt distinctly remembers the time one of his young patients showed up with a finger jammed deep inside the disc drive of a computer. "The doctors had to break the computer apart to free his finger," he recalls.

PCs aren't the only machines kids poke around in. DVD players, printer ports -- any place you can stick a tiny appendage can be a problem. It's not unusual to find a toddler with his finger caught in the tab of a soda can, or several digits shoved into a ring from Mommy's jewelry box.

Worst-case scenario

Catching a finger is more uncomfortable than dangerous, but whenever a part of the body is constricted, circulation may be cut off, which can significantly damage the tissue.

What to do

Try winding dental floss or string around the far end of the finger (the part that's swollen), Dr. Schmidt suggests. "This will help compress the swelling, so you can squeeze the part back through the opening." As long as the object's edges aren't sharp, a lubricant like oil or Vaseline can help too. Otherwise, most E.R.s have the tools to free fingers.

Avoid an oops

Store soda cans and other potential sticking points away from small hands. You can also buy special covers for your computer and DVD drive. Then give yourself a high-five on a crisis averted!

Help Needed, Stat!

Call 911 if you see any of these signs, says Jennifer Trachtenberg, M.D.

  • Evidence that your little one may have swallowed a poisonous substance or medication
  • Headache, vomiting, or loss of consciousness after a head injury
  • A wound or cut that's deep or large, or that involves your tot's chest, head, or abdomen
  • A large burn on the hands, face, or groin
  • Seizures
  • Severe difficulty breathing
  • Skin or lips that look blue, purple, or gray
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

Baby Care Basics: Surprising Reasons to Call the Doctor
Baby Care Basics: Surprising Reasons to Call the Doctor

Originally published in American Baby magazine.

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