You’re a new parent, and a few weeks in you start to notice pain radiating from your thumb to your wrist. It’s especially apparent as you pick up, hold, or feed your baby. Called “Mommy Wrist”, this pain is often ignored as new moms try to push through it. Because, really, what choice do we have when the baby is only content being held?
Let’s dive into what causes mommy wrist and how you can treat symptoms.
What is Mommy Wrist?
Mommy’s wrist is a type of tendonitis. Officially called de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, and sometimes mommy’s thumb or baby wrist, it occurs in parents of newborn and young children because of repeatedly carrying, holding, or feeding your baby in a way that overuses the muscles in your wrist.
The abductor pollicis longus muscle, which controls movement and tendons in your wrists and thumb, become painful and inflamed.
Most of the time, new parents will start to feel pain in the wrist or hand within the first few months of a baby’s life.
Tips for Avoiding Mommy Wrist
While not inevitable, mom wrist is very common. And the best way to heal it is to let it rest. (Rest with a newborn? Right, Ashley…) But you can make small changes to alleviate strain on your wrists and thumbs.
Here are some practical tips you can use to minimize symptoms as soon as you start to notice them. Or to try and avoid it altogether.
Wear a Splint
Like all inflamed nerves and tendons, rest is the first step to healing. Wearing a wrist splint with a thumb spica gives the thumb and wrist a chance to rest as you go about most activities.
Avoiding repetitive thumb movements gives the nerves and tendons time to heal. A splint can be especially helpful to wear at night when you’re sleeping and unaware of how your wrist is bending.
Adjust your Hold
If you have wrist pain from holding a baby, try to keep your hand and wrist “flat” rather than “curling” your hand in as you pick up and hold your baby. Think of “scooping” the baby up from underneath – this will minimize stress on your thumb and wrist.
As your baby grows, the way you hold him or her will naturally shift. Stay aware of how you lift, hold, and carry your child, being careful to avoid awkward positions that, over time, lead to pain.
Prop the Baby During Feeding
Place a pillow underneath your baby to help raise them up as you feed (breast or bottle). The pillow takes on most of the work supporting the baby, giving your wrist and hands a break. And probably your neck or shoulders too – how often do we find ourselves hunching over our baby as we try to feed them?
Carpal Tunnel vs. Mommy Wrist
A related hand and wrist issue is carpal tunnel. Both cause pain and discomfort at the base of the thumb. However, symptoms of carpal tunnel include numbness or tingling, due to pressure on a nerve. Tenosynovitis is an inflammation of the tendon; this is what causes the pain, usually on the thumb side of the wrist or hand.
Thanks primarily to fluid retention and hormonal shifts, both de Quervain’s or carpal tunnel can also occur during pregnancy. If this is you, I feel your pain! When I was pregnant with the twins, I had carpal tunnel pain so bad it would wake me up. Fortunately, pregnancy-related wrist and hand problems typically resolve on their own after childbirth.
Is it Mommy Wrist?
Perform the Finkelstein test on yourself: Bend your thumb across the palm of your hand and bend your fingers down over your thumb. Then bend your wrist toward your little finger. If you feel pain on the thumb side of your wrist, you likely have mommy wrist.
Relieving Postpartum Wrist Pain
Try incorporating these tips and exercises to help relieve the pain and inflammation in your wrists. Don’t be afraid to use modifications during exercise to reduce strain on your wrists.
Roll it Out
Use a small ball, such as a lacrosse or tennis ball, to massage your hands, wrists, and up and down your forearms. Apply some pressure. This will help to release tension.
Modify Your Workout
If your workout calls for the use of a bench (or floor or wall), you can make modifications to avoid pain. This is especially helpful for push-ups, tricep dips, planks, and other movements that place a lot of pressure on the wrist and thumb.
Release Your Traps
Incorporate movements that help release your trapezius (upper back) muscles. Tension in your traps can work its way down your arms and into your wrists.
Mommy Wrist Treatment Options
The best treatments for mommy wrist are conservative: rest, splint, and pain relief. We already covered the benefits of rest and wearing a splint. Other treatments include:
Your doctor may recommend over the counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). While these are generally safe to take while breastfeeding, please always discuss medication with your doctor.
If a splint or pain medication doesn’t work, a doctor may suggest corticosteroid injections.
Applying ice will help to reduce swelling and inflammation.
When to Call a Doctor
If you are in significant pain or at-home treatments are not working, you may want to see a physical therapist or an occupational therapist. The therapist will review how you use your wrist and offer insight on changes you can make to relieve stress. He or she can also suggest exercises to specifically help you.
Surgery is rarely necessary, although it is occasionally recommended for very serious cases.
Mommy wrist is common and not just among women. Any caregiver of young children may experience “Mommy Wrist.” With a proactive approach and better body mechanics when you pick up, hold and nurse your baby, the pain will improve.