A New York mom is garnering plenty of media attention after she posted a photo on Facebook of the exact moment her toddler daughter’s leg broke while the two were on a plastic slide at the park. Heather Clare, of Long Island, posted the graphic photo as a dire warning to other parents about the dangers of going down a slide with your child on your lap — something that millions of parents at the playground have probably done before. (Guilty as charged? Yep, me too.)
In the disturbing photo — which was taken by her husband — a smiling Clare is seen holding her then-year-old daughter, Meadow, on her legs as they make their way down the slide. At the center of the photo, Meadow’s foot is clearly bent in the opposite direction after it became wedged between her mother’s leg and the slide. In her post, Clare described how they pair wound up in an awkward leaning position just after the photo was snapped, because the mom realized what was happening and had desperately tried to stop their sliding. Little Meadow suffered a fractured tibia and fibula in her right leg and had to spend four weeks in a cast. She has since fully recovered.
Clare's warning is an important one, because the danger is real: Compelling research presented last year at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition in Chicago found that placing children (especially infants and toddlers) on adult laps to go down slides actually increases the risk of injury to the child's lower legs — and that risk includes broken bones.
"I've seen a lot of these injuries throughout my career, and I hadn't seen anybody talk about this issue," says Charles Jennissen, MD, a clinical professor and pediatric emergency medicine staff physician at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, who led the research and spoke to Popular Science. He and his colleagues scoured injury data from emergency departments across the United States and found that an estimated 352,698 children under the age of six were injured on slides in the U.S. from 2002 to 2015. Injuries were most common among kids from 12-23 months of age, and the most common injury (36 percent of them) were lower leg fractures.
Researchers also looked at the accompanying narrative (the hospital notes recounting the incident that led to the injury) from 600 of these cases — and of those, 94 percent involved lower leg injuries. This is important, because a kid falling off a slide by himself would most likely hurt his face, head, or arms (especially if the poor tot reached out to break his fall).
"We think a lot of these lower extremity injuries are because they're on the lap," says Dr. Jennissen. "We don't know that for sure, because the narrative doesn't say that. But from my experience, and the data that suggests it, we think almost all of these are kids are on the lap."
So why do many parents tend to go the lap route? Sides can seem especially dangerous for small children who aren't fully coordinated or in control of their bodies just yet. A toddler is less likely to topple from such heights (and boy, don't some of those slides seem super high?) if she’s within a loving parent or grandparent's firm grasp. Plus, we all know that slides can be wet from rain or can be hot — getting as hot as 200 degrees on a summer day — depending on what material they're made from. Much safer to let your bottom side take the brunt of that discomfort than a baby or toddler’s delicate skin, right? Now, we know better.
Going down a slide together? Use caution.
Jennissen thinks that the most likely way for a child to injure their legs on a slide is for them to catch their feet along the edge. Of course, this can happen when kids go down slides by themselves, but when they’re sitting on an adult’s lap and their foot gets caught, they have the added momentum of an adult body wrenching their tiny leg backwards.
While Jennissen isn’t arguing that you should never go down the slide with your kid (and admits he’s done it with his own kids) he says adults should be aware of the risks.
“The safest thing is not to go down the slide with an infant or toddler on your lap,” says Jennissen. “But if they do so, parents really need to use extreme caution. You really need to make sure that you're watching and controlling the child's lower extremities so they don't catch on the side of the slide.”
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