What the heck is Mother’s Thumb and what should you do if you have it?
Are you experiencing wrist or thumb pain postpartum? Then you may be experiencing Mother’s thumb or Mommy wrist. This issue goes by many names in mom circles but its technical name is De Quervain’s tenosynovitis.
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Find out more about this condition or jump straight to the solutions!
What is tenosynovitis?
According to Merriam-Webster, tenosynovitis is the inflammation of a tendon sheath.
Tendons are what connect your muscles to your bones.
It occurs most often in the wrist and causes varying amounts of pain and discomfort. It’s usually caused by repetitive use, so it’s similar to carpal tunnel.
What causes mommy wrist?
Similar to carpal tunnel syndrome postpartum wrist pain is often caused by repetitive use.
Mommy wrist or thumb is caused by the repetitive motions of caring for a baby. It’s slightly more common in breastfeeding moms as you often find yourself holding a baby’s head for long periods of time.
It’s also more common in first time moms as the movements and parts of the body that are being put under strain may be new. The muscles are not used to performing their new functions putting greater strain on the tendons.
Things like lifting your baby, holding, rocking, and supporting their head during feedings can all put a strain on your wrists and arms which can lead to wrist or thumb pain.
Women in the third trimester or postpartum are also more prone to these types of injuries due to good old hormones. During pregnancy your body releases the hormones relaxin and progesterone to loosen ligaments and joints.
This is necessary so that your body can expand to accommodate your growing baby and eventually allow the baby to be born.
Unfortunately, these same hormones can effect joints throughout the body including in the hands and wrists making these repetitive use injuries more likely to occur in late pregnancy or postnatal.
Does mommy thumb go away?
Very mild cases of wrist pain after birth may simply resolve on their own or with minimal intervention.
The more severe your case the more help and treatment that may be necessary to make your pain go away.
Check out the list of common solutions below and consult with your own doctor of course.
Common solutions for postpartum wrist pain
While these are common fixes for postpartum wrist pain and most are easy enough to try on your own I of course recommend you schedule an appointment with your doctor for more personalized care.
I actually experienced Mommy thumb myself after the birth of my first baby.
My thumb joint and somewhat my wrist were painful. I went to the doctor and they suggested the first three fixes below, wrist exercises, adjusting my hold, and they provided me with a wrist splint.
My pain did go away after a while and it did not return with the birth of my second baby.
1. Wrist exercises
A doctor may give you wrist exercises and stretches to do to help stretch and strengthen the muscles in the area that is giving you pain.
While you’re waiting to meet with your doctor you can try some of these exercises from Dr. Singh.
2. Hold baby different ways and adjust regularly
To reduce the repetitive motion and strain on a particular part of your hand try holding and/or nursing your baby in different positions. During long sessions try to move your hand around and reposition it regularly.
3. Wrist splint
A wrist splint can help stabilize and provide support to your hand.
My doctor provided me with a wrist splint but I honestly only used it a few times. It felt bulky and I didn’t feel secure holding my little one with it on but it’s worth a try.
You can also wear it during those rare times in the early days that you aren’t holding your baby!
4. Try a baby carrier
To take the stress off your hands and wrists you can also try using a baby carrier. Ensure you are using it correctly or you may replace wrist pain with back pain.
Some of my favorite carriers are the Tula, Lillebaby, and Kinderpack.
You can also learn to nurse your baby while they are in a carrier. I never mastered this skill but I know many women you have. A lactation consultant or local breastfeeding or baby carrying group may be able to give you tips on this.
Need more information on breastfeeding? Visit the Breastfeeding page.
5. Use a supportive device like a breastfeeding pillow
Another device that can help give your wrists a break is a breastfeeding pillow or nursing pillow. They can help support your baby while they eat (via breastfeeding or bottle) to give your hands a break or free them up to do something like feed yourself!
Check out my comparison of two popular pillows, boppy vs. my brest friend.
Taking an anti-inflammatory medication may also help to reduce the pain. You can try an over the counter medication like Ibuprofen (with approval from your doctor) or your doctor may prescribe something else.
7. Cortisone Shots
Another treatment your doctor may suggest, especially if the less invasive treatments have failed, is a corticosteroid shot.
Cortisone injections help with inflammation and pain, they are often used to treat conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
The cortisone shot itself will be a bit painful but may help to alleviate the de quervain’s tenosynovitis.
Mommy thumb is a common ailment for postpartum women so don’t be alarmed if you suffer from it too. I do recommend seeing your doctor about it but hopefully some of the above solutions will work for you!
Visit the Postpartum page for more tips for life after delivery.
University of Rochester Medical Center
Mayo Clinic – Cortisone shots