Picking up and holding your new little bundle of joy helps both of you bond and relax. But it also works muscles you never knew you had!
In some cases, the repetitive strain and movement of lifting and shifting your newborn — or even pushing your babe around in a stroller — can lead to new aches.
A common one is sometimes called “mommy thumb” because many new mamas (or daddies or other caregivers) develop this temporary hand pain.
Here’s what to know about this common hand and wrist condition, including how to get relief.
You may also hear mommy thumb called:
- baby wrist
- cradle thumb
- de Quervain’s tenosynovitis (or de Quervain’s tendonitis, syndrome, or disease)
This condition happens when the tendons on the thumb side of your wrist become inflamed or swollen. Tendons are the “ropes” that hold muscles and bones together. You can see the ones on the back of the thumb when you hold your thumb up away from your fingers.
Some new parents describe mommy thumb as a sharp or dull pain at the base of the thumb or at the thumb side of the wrist. Your thumb or wrist might also feel swollen. You might feel pain all the way up from the wrist to the thumb.
Pain, swelling, and tenderness from mommy thumb can make it difficult to grab, hold, or pinch things. Your thumb might feel stiff and tender when you try to move it. You might feel discomfort even when you’re cradling your baby’s head in your open palm.
In serious cases, this condition can lead to a little bump or nodule to form at the base of your thumb. You might also feel like your thumb is making a snapping sound and “locking” or getting caught in something when you move it. This happens when the tendon is so swollen that it can’t support the thumb properly.
The exact cause of mommy thumb isn’t known because it can happen for several reasons. Changes or injuries in the hand might cause this condition. You can get mommy thumb from any activity where you often overuse your thumb muscles.
This includes gardening, painting, playing tennis, typing, and lifting and even just holding your baby. Overworking or flexing the thumb too much can lead to tiny tears inside or around the tendon. This is called a repetitive strain injury (RSI).
New parents with this hand condition typically get it about 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth. This might happen because changing hormones and swelling can pinch or put pressure on the tendons and muscles in the thumb.
You can also get mommy thumb while pregnant due to changing hormones, swelling, and repetitive work with their hands. One medical
Dads and other caregivers can also have mommy thumb, especially if they pick up a baby (or toddler) several times a day.
If you have a chronic joint condition like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, your thumb and wrist tendons might be weaker and more easily injured. This can increase your risk of mommy thumb.
Sometimes, mommy thumb will get better over time on its own. Avoid using your thumb, wrist, and hand as much as possible as the injured tendon heals.
While this may seem like impossible advice if you have a newborn, look to alternatives — like baby wearing instead of carrying your little one in your arms or using your forearms to push the stroller on flat ground — that may lessen repetitive motions.
In mild cases, simply changing how you do daily tasks can help relieve symptoms. Check how you position your hands and body when you carry and nurse your baby.
Also remember to relax and stretch your hand and wrist throughout the day.
Home remedies to help ease mommy thumb symptoms include:
- trying different positions while feeding and holding your baby
- using a sling and pillow to help support your baby’s weight
- taking several breaks rather than trying to finish a task all at once
Contrast therapy may help ease pain and inflammation. Try alternating the following steps:
- Use a heating pad, hot water bottle, or warm water for heat therapy on your hands.
- Use a damp towel, cool water in a bowl or an ice pack wrapped in a towel for cold therapy relief.
A splint can help keep your thumb and wrist immobile while the tendons heal. Ask your medical provider about the best splint or brace for mommy thumb.
They’re normally made out of thick fabric and light plastic with adjustable straps for comfort. You can take off the splint when you sleep and wear it during the day when you’re active.
Over-the-counter medications include pain relievers and anti-inflammatories to help soothe discomfort and bring down swelling. They include:
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- naproxen (Aleve)
However, check with your doctor or midwife about what’s safe for you to take if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Treatment and prevention for mommy thumb include exercises that stretch and relax your thumb, hands, and wrists. Check with your provider before trying these light physiotherapy exercises.
- Place your hand on a flat surface, palm up.
- Lift and curl your thumb over your palm to make a “C” shape.
- Hold for about 6 seconds.
- Repeat up to 12 times.
Passive thumb flexion
- Hold your hand in front of you like you’re about to shake someone’s hand.
- Use your other hand to bend your thumb down at the place where your palm meets your thumb.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat up to 4 times.
- Hold both arms out in front of you, palms up.
- Bend your affected thumb toward your palm.
- Use your other hand to gently stretch your thumb and wrist toward your forearm until you feel the stretch on the thumb side of your wrist.
- Hold for at least 15 seconds and repeat up to 4 times.
Let your healthcare provider know if your mommy thumb doesn’t go away or get better within 2 to 4 weeks, or if the pain is severe.
In some cases, you may need medical treatment along with home treatments and exercises. Treatments for mommy thumb provided by a doctor may include:
- corticosteroid injection (cortisone shot) into the thumb tendon to reduce swelling and pain
- surgery to relieve pressure on the tendon
- physiotherapy to relax and reduce strain in your hands
Mommy thumb is a common hand and wrist condition that can happen to anyone. It’s common in new parents because of changing hormones and the repetitive stress motions that come with holding and nursing a baby.
In most cases, mommy thumb gets better or goes away with home treatments like pain relief and cold therapy. In more serious cases, you might need treatment to bring down the inflammation and help the tendon heal.