So Your Toddler’s in a Spica Cast … Here’s How to Survive

Today I’m going to share the coping strategies we used during Freddie’s two (yes, two) spica casts.

In case you found this blog post by Googling some combination of “toddler,” “spica cast,” and “OH MY GOD,” let me catch you up on my story. My son Freddie broke his leg a couple months after turning 2. He was at toddler hour at Sky Zone, bouncing maybe inches off the trampoline all by himself, when SNAP. He got a spiral fracture of his right femur, which led to four weeks in a spica cast. Oh, and I was 15 weeks pregnant at the time.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, fast forward 6 months, to the day after we brought our new baby home from the hospital. Freddie was running through the house, stepped on a sweatshirt on the wood floor, slipped, and SNAP. A spiral fracture of the left femur. That was 5 weeks in a spica cast, this time with a brand new baby at home.

Father’s Day 2017

Yep, a toddler in a spica and a newborn baby. It was NUTS.

So yeah, you could say this is expert spica cast advice. Or as expert as it can be without having an MD after my name. We’ve done two tours in a spica cast, once at 2 years old, and once at 2.5. And I’m about to share how we got through it.

The First Days

The first few days are the hardest. Kiddo was still in pain and very confused about why his parents had mummified him. He was constantly grabbing for us, like we could pull him out of it. But when we tried to pick him up, it caused terrible pain. This included for things like diaper changes.

As a result, sleep didn’t come easily. For the first couple of days, every time he’d start to drift off, he’d startle, which would jostle his leg, and he’d wake up screaming in pain. This is called “hypnotic jerk,” and it’s common in the first few days after the injury. It was miserable to watch, but there’s really nothing you can do to help it. I found putting my hand over his foot to keep the jerk from the startle to a minimum helped a little.

Luckily after a day or two, the pain lessened and that stopped. The first few days are also filled with a lot of whining. Like, a lot. Learn to turn it out early and just power through.

Getting Set Up

First thing’s first: order a wedge pillow.

We got this one, which has a removable, washable cover. We set up a makeshift bed in the living room, right in front of the tv using those foam puzzle tiles, blankets, and pillows. The wedge is key for propping your little one comfortably.

Leo: 3 days old … Freddie’s cast: 1 days old … Mom: exhausted

For sleeping, we moved Freddie into our guest room so he could sleep in the big bed with one of us watching over him. We ordered this bed rail to keep him from tumbling out (it may not seem like it at first, but your toddler will get semi-mobile thanks to some quickly developing upper body strength).

Second? Get over any hangups you have about screen time.

We have a Roku stick with Netflix and Amazon Prime. We watched Curious George and the Halloween BooFest about a hundred times. The dialogue haunts my dreams. But it kept him entertained, so you wanna watch BooFest again? Sure kid, lemme get that started for you.

I also let him watch stuff on my iPad, and for that, you need a good, kid-friendly case. I got this Speck case, and after watching my iPad get tossed off the bed in toddler frustration a couple times, I can tell you it’s great. My iPad still works perfectly. (And if you don’t know about Guided Access, which locks your toddler into an app to keep them from getting into something you don’t want or deleting something you need, learn all about it.)

Ok, but after Netflix and a thousand episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on Amazon Prime, what else can you do with your spica cast kid?

Getting Out

My biggest advice? Don’t become housebound. It’s easy to think you’re trapped at home, but you’re not, and getting out will keep the entire family from losing their ever-loving minds.

Freddie in our UPPAbaby G-LITE just after getting his cast off the 2nd time

Let me start by saying that umbrella strollers are where it’s at when you’ve got a toddler in a spica. Our UPPAbaby G-LITE saved our lives, because it has a deep enough seat to support him, shallow enough sides that his splayed leg position still fit in the stroller, and it’s strong enough to support the extra weight of toddler + cast (which can be upwards of 50 lbs). If you’re in a position to get a new stroller to get you through this experience, I highly recommend the G-LITE (Amazon usually has a good price). It’s a great stroller even without the spica (lightweight, sturdy, easy to maneuver, and folds up like a dream) and you’ll use it like crazy, I promise.

Taking a late-night stroll to look for cockroaches in the UPPAbaby G-LITE (one of his favorite cast activities … yikes!)

(Side-note: I just found out that UPPAbaby makes a double version of the G-LITE that accommodates infants.  I WANT ONE. And after the ordeal we endured as a family, I think I may have earned it.)

So where should you go?

Well, really anywhere can become an adventure if you approach it with enough enthusiasm.

Freddie loved going to Petsmart to look at the fish, reptiles, birds, and rescue cats. He also really enjoyed visits to Bass Pro Shop, where they have an enormous river aquarium. Another fun activity? Visiting our local park and throwing pennies into the fountains. I’d say we deposited a few dollars in pennies around our fair town on those outings.

See what I mean about anywhere?

The key is to find places that are handicap accessible, because then you know you’ll be able to get around with a stroller. We visited local museums (the planetarium was huge hit). We were really lucky to find a nature center nearby that is 100% ADA accessible, which meant Freddie got to check out all manner of wildlife (the otters were a big hit). If you’ve got a zoo or an aquarium, definitely go there.

Enjoying the show at the planetarium … a 15 minute show is the perfect length for a toddler!

Story times at local libraries and bookstores (Barnes & Noble has a couple each week) were also good adventures, and they have the bonus of being free.

The key is to get creative and get out of the house.

Entertainment

Ok, but sometimes you have to be at home. What then?

Sorting the lids from yogurt pouches into a muffin tin

Boredom is going to feel like your biggest hurdle. If I found myself in a spica cast for 4 weeks, I’d hate it, sure, but I’d also take it as a chance to read books and binge watch Netflix and get waited on hand and foot. A two year old? Yeah, not the same. We watched a lot of Sarah & Duck and Super Why and Raffi concerts, but two year olds still don’t enjoy a steady stream of television like us adults might. That pesky attention span, you know? Luckily, we had lots of friends and family sending care packages of things to help distract him. Here’s what worked the best:

Melissa & Doug Water Wow!
You guys, it’s painting with no mess! He could do it in bed laying down, and the pads helped him work on letters and numbers while he was at it. These were fantastic. Just fill the little pen tool with water and set them loose.

MagnaDoodle
The only downside of this one was the magnetic shapes, which kept clattering to the floor and requiring parental retrieval. But otherwise, he thoroughly enjoyed scribbling and erasing.

Stickers
My mom sent him a little spiral notebook and a stack of stickers. The puffy ones were the best, because they were easier for his little toddler fingers to handle. He’d spend a while just sticking stickers in his book.

Play-doh
I’d been avoiding adding Play-doh to our house, because holy mess. But all bets are off when your kid is in a partial body cast. Did you know a can of Play-doh is only 94 cents at Target? Yeah, there’s one toy that costs exactly what it should. My mom also sent a set of Play-doh cookie cutters and a rolling pin. This probably occupied him for the longest length of time of anything.

Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Pad
Friends sent him this great sticker pad with vinyl moveable stickers. It has a bunch of scenes and then sticker sets that can be manipulated and reused. He loved it!

Crayola Color Wonder Markers & Paper
Another magic product that kept mess to a minimum. If you’re unfamiliar, Color Wonder Markers don’t color on skin or fabric or any paper but Color Wonder paper, where they magically appear. They make color wonder stamps now, too.

He had some other fun toys that he loved (like the Daniel Tiger Trolley and this plastic santa pig that shot little nerf balls). And of course he loved having books read to him, particularly interactive ones that involved sounds or motions from the parental units. We were willing to try anything.

Be prepared: basically nothing will occupy a two year old for more than 15-20 minutes, no matter how cosmic and cool. Just throw everything at the wall and see what will stick (seriously, we threw things at the wall … that was good for a few giggles). Our dining room table became a toy/distraction staging area, and we’d run over and pull out a new thing whenever he got restless. Basically a spica cast on a toddler requires the parents to develop the patience of a saint and the stamina of a rodeo clown.

Care & Cleaning

Are you ready for the hard truth?

The spica cast is going to get gross. Despite your best efforts, your kid is probably going to smell like a latrine by the end of it. You do the best you can, but it happens. Catch as catch can. Here’s how to mitigate it as much as possible.

We did sponge baths every couple of days, but we used a variety of hospital-grade dry bath products daily to combat the funk. These No Rinse Bathing Wipes are great for trying to get into the cast crevices as much as possible without getting water in there, and trust me, they really do work miles better than your standard baby wipe. There’s also a No Rinse Shampoo, though we dangled Freddie over the tub and let him splash in the water while I washed his hair.

The other major hurdle of the spica is constipation. When your kid can’t move, it’s really hard for his bowels to move stuff through them. This can cause backups and ultimately terrible pain when it comes time to poop. Seriously, it can be traumatizing.

On advice of our pediatrician, we employed Miralax. DON’T USE TOO MUCH. Scale up to the recommended dose, otherwise you’ll have the opposite problem on your hand. Please talk to your own doctor about this, as I am not a medical professional and don’t know your kid.

If your kid isn’t a horribly picky eater (hi, mine is), you can try things like raisins or smoothies with prune juice in them to try and keep things moving. My kid spent his two spica tours mostly eating french fries and veggie straws and whatever other treats we could cajole him to eat. Do what ya gotta do, I say.

As for diaper changes, for the first couple days, they will cause pain and your kid will scream. Just try to make it happen fast. For this, it became a two-man job. Adam held him up in the air while I went to town like a NASCAR pit crew member. I got fast at that business.

By the end of the second week, when he wasn’t in any noticeable pain, I could basically roll him around to do it solo. Adam would lay him in his lap and flip him over to get the job done (I couldn’t manage that with a burgeoning pregnant belly). The nurses at the hospital (or the orthopedist, wherever you end up), will show you the ropes.

We also had an issue with the cast rubbing at his back, so we got adhesive moleskin at the drug store (it’s in with the foot care stuff). To keep it from peeling off, we had to do a strip of duct tape along the back. Not too cute, but it worked.

In fact, by the end of the time in the spica, your cast may start peeling and falling apart. Duct tape will be your friend. You can even make a game out of it and let your kiddo pick out some fun patterns to do the patching (which is also another fun outing to go pick it out!).

Just Power Through

It’s really all you can do. Take it day by day, and know that it will end. I promise. And the day they cut that thing off really will be as glorious as you anticipated (though your child probably won’t walk for a couple weeks … it took Freddie 10 days the first time and 8 the second).

If you find yourself with a kid in a spica and have any questions, I’m happy to answer them. Just email me. 

And my parting words of wisdom? DON’T TAKE YOUR KID TO THE TRAMPOLINE PARK.

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