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Thumb and wrist pain after having a baby

New mothers can get painful thumbs and wrists. This is because of the extra pressure on their hands from lifting and holding their babies. This condition is known as de Quervain's tenosynovitis, mother's wrist or baby wrist.

The pain is caused by irritation of the covering around the tendons going to your thumb. These tendons are on the side of the wrist, at the base of the thumb.

Some women also get thumb and wrist pain during pregnancy.

Symptoms

You might have baby wrist if you feel:

  • pain when you move your thumb or wrist - this can travel up the arm
  • pain when you tuck your thumb in and make a fist
  • swelling and tenderness on the thumb side of your wrist
  • a catching or snapping feeling when you move your thumb

Treatment

You can often ease the pain yourself with:

  • ice massage
  • stretching techniques
  • painkillers such as paracetamol
  • A rigid wrist splint

If the pain is not easing, see your physiotherapist

Things you can do to avoid making the pain worse

Managing your pain is the best way to treat thumb and wrist pain and will help you recover quicker.

You should do things to try and ensure your pain does not get worse.

Things you could do are:

  • change how you move your hand and wrist until symptoms begin to ease
  • scoop your baby up with your sore hand under their bottom - this can be more comfortable
  • keep your wrist rigid - this avoids pain irritation
  • avoid wrist movements like opening the lid on a jar that is quite tight
  • avoid using your thumb to grip objects

Ice

Apply an ice pack for 10 minutes, several times a day. Use a damp cloth to protect your hand from ice burn.

You could use:

  • a packet of frozen peas wrapped in a towel
  • a cold pack
  • a frozen water bottle - keep one by your bed if you get pain at night

Massage

Massage the area of muscle at the base of your thumb called the thenar eminience. Massaging this muscle can help you naturally hold your thumb further away from your palm.

Stretching exercises

Put your hand on a table, palm facing down. Use your other hand to gently move your thumb upwards and away from the table for 10 to 15 seconds. Bring your thumb down slowly. Repeat 5 times every 2 hours.

Rest the side of your hand on a table, with the little finger at the bottom. Use your other hand to move your thumb away from your fingers. Bring your thumb back down slowly. Repeat 5 to 10 times every 2 hours.

To avoid making the pain worse:

  • scoop your baby under their bottom with your palm facing up, instead of lifting under the arms
  • use pillows or cushions to support your arms while breastfeeding, so there's less pressure on your hands
  • try a nursing pillow to lift your baby closer

Seek physiotherapy advice to help manage this problem if the condition is not improving after a few weeks.

page last reviewed: 19/06/2019
next review due: 19/06/2022