It's been known that children born to teenage parents are at a higher risk for injury, but a new study released Thursday highlights the fact that many of these injuries are accidental, often resulting from falls or ingesting objects.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Texas' Southwestern Medical Center and Children's Medical Center, analyzed the cases of 764 patients under the age of 7 who were seen in emergency departments from 2009 to 2011. Despite concerns that children born to teen parents are at a higher risk for child abuse, the study found almost all of the injuries (93 percent) were unintentional, most often consisting of bruising and fractures.
"With common sense and personal experience currently serving as the source for injury prevention measures, more efforts are needed to help parents proactively identify injury hazards and risks," the study says. "Programs geared at improving parental supervision and identifying and correcting home safety hazards could yield in injury reductions across multiple mechanisms of injury both in and outside the home."
One injury that did become more common during the time frame of the study was nursemaid's elbow, a dislocation injury that can be caused by pulling on an outstretched arm, or picking up a child from the hands, rather than under the arms. Those dislocations increased from 4 percent to nearly 8 percent during the three-year period, while head injuries increased from less than 1 percent to 5.6 percent.
"The higher rate of nursemaid's elbow in the present study may be related to lack of education, lack of experience, socioeconomic status, lack of timely access to a primary care provider, or a perception of the (emergency department) as the primary health care source," the study says.
Citing a previous focus group study, the report's authors said almost half of the teen mothers interviewed said they used their own common sense or experience to prevent injuries to their children. Another 61 percent said they learned about preventing injuries either from their own mothers or other significant caregivers, but no participants said they had received any information from their primary care physicians.
Additionally, 7 percent of the injuries were found to be either intentional or of an undetermined cause. The non-accidental injuries had higher percentages of admissions, fatalities, head traumas and multiple injuries, and the patients were significantly younger than those injured by accidental means. These findings are consistent with other research examining the ages associated with shaken baby syndrome, a form of abusive head trauma, the report says.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, parents and caregivers most often resort to shaking a baby because of inconsolable crying.
Still, shaken baby syndrome is the leading cause of child abuse death in the United States, according to the CDC, with at least one-quarter of infant victims dying from the abuse.
"The fact is that crying – including long bouts of inconsolable crying – is normal developmental behavior in infants," the CDC said. "The problem is not the crying; however, it's how caregivers respond to it."