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Preventing falls for babies and children

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Falls are one of the most common causes of injury in babies and young children.
  • The severity of injuries is affected by the height of a fall, what they fall onto and what they hit on the way down.
  • As children grow, their environment needs to be adjusted to keep them safe from falls.
  • Many falls can be prevented through supervision and using safety gates and harnesses.
  • Home safety is important to prevent falls relating to slippery surfaces, balconies and glass.

How common are falls?

Falls are the most common cause of injuries treated in hospitals in all age groups. Each year in Australia, 68,000 children are hospitalised because of unintentional injuries, including falls and other trauma. Reassuringly, most falls are not serious and only result in a bump or a bruise.

Even from birth, babies are at risk of falling, especially when they are learning to walk. This is because until they develop balance skills, they’re at risk of tripping, stumbling and falling.

What is the main cause of injuries from falls?

The most common falls in children 14 years old and younger include falls:

  • involving playground equipment
  • are on the same level, such as from slipping, tripping and stumbling
  • involving ice skates, skis, roller-skates or skateboards

Children under 5 years are also likely to fall from chairs or highchairs. Falls are the most common type of injury involving highchairs. Typically, children fall when they are trying to climb into, or out of the chair.

What types on injuries can happen from a fall?

Fractured (broken) bones, cuts, lacerations, bruises, swelling and soreness are the most common types of injuries when a child falls.

The type of injuries sustained from falls depends on 3 factors:

  1. The height they fall — the lower the height, the lower the danger. Children aged under 5 years should not have access to heights over 1.5 metres. Older children should not have access to heights over 2 metres.
  2. What the child falls onto — hard surfaces like concrete, tiles and even compacted sand are more dangerous than soft surfaces.
  3. What the child might hit as they fall — landing on furniture with sharp edges, such as glass, can cause serious injuries.

How do I prevent my baby from falling?

It’s always good practice to place babies where they cannot fall. The floor can be the safest place for a baby as long as it’s clear of dangerous items and the baby can’t be walked on.

In the bedroom

Although they can’t roll when they’re very young, babies are building skills towards being able to move, roll and reach out even from their earliest weeks. Once they can roll, babies can easily and quickly move across spaces like a bed or change table. This is why it’s a good idea to always have one hand on your baby when they’re on a change table, on your lap or when they’re on a bed.

In the bathroom

Always keep your child within arm’s reach. Use a non-slip bathmat and encourage them to sit down. Use absorbent mats on the floor.

Preventing falls

Guide to preventing your baby having falls

How do I prevent my child from falling?

Toddlers and young children can be inquisitive, independent and want to explore their environment. However, they don’t have the cognitive ability to know what is safe. This is why it’s important to always supervise where your child is and what they are doing.

To help protect young children:

  • get down on the floor at your toddler’s level and look at things from their perspective
  • remove trip hazards on the floor, including rugs without anti-skid mats, and electrical cords
  • make sure they can’t climb onto furniture and high places
  • secure heavy furniture, including television sets, bookcases, dressers and items that they can climb up and onto
  • cover sharp edges on table corners and benches
  • make sure your child cannot fall from a window or balcony — lock windows and doors or use guards so they can be locked open with only a small gap
  • do not assume playground equipment is safe — do your own checks and always stay close-by when your child is climbing and playing
  • use safety gates at the top of stairs and into rooms that can be dangerous, like kitchen and bathrooms
  • keep their cot free from anything that could be ‘stacked’ to prevent the toddler from climbing out of their cot

Tips to prevent falls

It can help to know how to reduce the risk of injuries from falls:

  • Don’t carry your baby around in a rocker or bouncer chair. Make 2 trips if you need to and carry your baby and the rocker or chair separately.
  • Always place your baby’s rocker or bouncer chair on the floor when they are using it.
  • Don’t use a baby walker. These can move quickly and young babies don’t have the skills to control where a walker can go.
  • Always use a 5- point safety harness when your baby is in their highchair, pram or stroller. Use the brake function on their pram and avoid placing heavy bags onto the pram handles.
  • Mop up water and other liquid spills on the ground to avoid slipping over.
  • Always raise the cot sides when your baby is in their cot.

What should I do if my baby or child has a fall?

Apply first aid as an initial response if your child is injured, has been involved in an accident or has a medical emergency. It’s always important to check for any injuries and take your child to a GP if you’re worried. Seek urgent medical help if your child has a head injury, or you think they have a broken bone or are in pain.

When should I see a doctor?

Take your child to see your GP or the local children’s hospital emergency department if you are concerned. If your child has a cut or laceration that does not stop bleeding, or the cut is very deep, they may need to have stitches. Check that your child has had a tetanus injection in the last 5 years.

When should I call an ambulance?

Call 000 immediately for an ambulance if:

  • your child has had a head injury that involves high speeds or heights greater than a metre. If your child is involved in a car crash, high-speed skateboard accident or falls from playground equipment, always call an ambulance.
  • your child loses consciousness (passes out).
  • your child seems unwell and vomits more than once after hitting their head.

Resources and support

It can be helpful for parents and caregivers to do a first-aid course so they know what to do in case of an emergency. Check what is available in your own state or territory.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2023

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Need more information?

Falls prevention for babies and toddlers | Raising Children Network

Falls prevention for babies and young children is about adjusting their home and play environment so it’s safe as they grow. Close supervision is also key.

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Guide to preventing your baby having falls

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Moving from cot to bed: tips and ideas | Raising Children Network

Moving from cot to bed is exciting, but there’s no hurry. Safe options include a toddler bed, a mattress on the floor away from walls, or rails on the bed.

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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