After giving birth to a baby, your body goes through a tremendous amount of change. At the same time, your body also is adapting to many new ways it's needed to care for a baby. Just like if you started a new exercise routine or new job that required different physical adaptations, you will likely experience soreness and even pain from new things like feeding baby, holding baby, and picking up baby.
Some soreness during the postpartum period may be normal, but pain is not. If you experience soreness and pain at anytime in any place in your body during the postpartum period, you should tell your care provider -- midwife, obstetrician, primary doctor, or a physical therapist (PT).
Some new parents experience sharp, acute pain in their wrist(s) in the weeks and months after having a baby. This pain is often caused by something called "Mommy Thumb," though it can affect mommies, daddies, parents, family members, and caregivers alike! The official name for this kind of wrist injury is de Quervain's tenosynovitis (say that three times quickly!), which is an inflammation of the tendons from the thumb to the wrist that is caused by repetitive lifting and improper holding of baby. Pain from Mommy Thumb can range from mild to severe and should not be ignored, as it will not go away on its own.
What should you do if you're experiencing pain from what you might suspect is Mommy Thumb? Let's talk first about prevention! If you're experiencing mild pain or no pain at all, take care with how you hold and pick up baby. We're so accustomed to the classic hands-underneath-the-arms position, which is exactly what puts stress on the thumbs and wrist. Instead of this L-shaped hand position, seek other ways to lift and hold baby, like placing one hand around baby's back and the other hand on baby's bottom, "scooping"; holding in a cradle position; sitting baby on your lap; or using a wrap, sling, or carrier to hold.
If you're experiencing more intense, persistent pain from Mommy Thumb, you need to treat it:
Rest and ice your wrist. If you are able (many are not), take a break from picking up baby as much as possible. This doesn't mean you can't hold baby, but rather have someone else hand her to you. To reduce swelling and inflammation, use ice several times intermittently throughout the day.
Treat pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen and other NSAIDs can reduce pain and swelling. Always check with your doctor first.
Wear a brace. Wearing a brace can protect your thumb and wrist from further injury/aggravation, which can help reduce pain and get rid of your Mommy Thumb. Most pharmacies sell a wrist brace support with thumb spica.
Get a shot of cortisone. If the pain is worsening, and not letting up with other less invasive methods, your doctor may suggest a cortisone shot.
Surgery may be necessary in rare cases. If all else fails, you may be facing surgery to open up the compartment holding the tendons in order to allow more space for the inflammation. Relief from surgery is permanent and the condition will not return. The surgery is done using a small incision and is an out-patient procedure.
Mommy Thumb is common, preventable, and treatable. If you find yourself experiencing wrist pain at anytime during your baby's first couple of years, contact your doctor for assessment. The more conscious you can be able how your hold and pick up your baby, the better off your entire body -- including your wrists! -- will be.