The experience of being a new mom can be both fulfilling and challenging.
In the latter category, hormone changes, fluid retention and the sudden addition of new physical demands such as lifting and carrying the newborn often lead to a painful condition known as “baby wrist.” Changing diapers, breastfeeding and lifting the child can all become nearly impossible due to pain and weakness related to this condition.
Lifting a newborn may not seem like it would take much effort. But a baby will typically need to be lifted 30 or more times a day.
That adds up and it places new mothers already prone to hormone-induced tendon weakness at further risk of injury. The tendons and supporting muscles of the wrist and thumb have not had time to become conditioned to this intensive new activity and can become painfully inflamed.
The most common diagnosis for new moms with tendon pain around the base of the thumb is de Quervain’s tenosynovitis — inflammation of the sheath that surrounds the tendons. This odd-sounding condition is something that should not be ignored, as it can lead to chronic inflammation that will cause suffering for years to come. Delaying treatment can also lead to pain from other parts of the body attempting to compensate for the injury, such as the neck and shoulders.
The action that most often leads to de Quervain’s is scooping — hands out, thumbs up — used most frequently when lifting a baby out of a crib from their underarms. Holding your baby in certain positions can further exacerbate this condition. Pain during feeding is a common complaint due to the sometimes unnatural position of the wrist when holding a baby, especially when using a bottle.
To prevent de Quervain’s try keeping your forearm, wrist and hand in a straight line instead of bending the wrist to hold your baby’s head. If possible, lift and carry your child with both arms or use a baby carrier. Using a changing table that allows you to move your baby close to you in a hugging position before standing lets your legs do more of the work than your wrists. As your Stroller Strides group rolls toward Madison Park, make sure to place your palms on top of the carriage’s handles, instead of the sides, to minimize the tendency to angle your wrists. Take frequent breaks from any hand-intensive activity and allow your hand and wrist to rest in a neutral position.
Yoga classes designed specifically for pre- and post-natal moms can be found at Live Love Flow in Madison Valley and 8 Limbs Yoga on Capitol Hill. The instructors can help maintain and improve the strength, mobility and balance of the body to better tolerate the demanding tasks of being a new mom. Treating your overworked muscles to a massage at Seattle Massage Pro may speed recovery and decrease muscle fatigue.
Breastfeeding can be stressful to the tendons of the wrist as well. Try to avoid excessively curving your hand and wrist around your newborn during breastfeeding. Using bed pillows or special breastfeeding pillows and folded baby blankets (particularly supporting the wrists from underneath) can all allow mom to hold baby without excessive bending. Using a swaddle blanket from The Original Children’s Shop may relieve some of the stress applied to tendons as well. A foot stool can help with positioning your baby in your lap. Some mothers may feed while lying down to minimize stress to their wrist.
If you find yourself with symptoms of “baby wrist,” seek out a specialist before the condition becomes chronic and debilitating. A physician may suggest cortisone injections to reduce pain and inflammation. Icing the sore area for 10-15 minutes several times a day can also decrease pain.
Education, body mechanics training and supportive splinting can be offered by an occupational therapist. A custom splint supporting the wrist and thumb may be used to allow painful tendons to rest and heal without limiting caregiving tasks. Techniques to safely manage car seats, bags and strollers are all part of the treatment plan an occupational therapist will offer.
Many new moms can also find relief from tendonitis pain through acupuncture services like those provided by Annie Lindberg Acupuncture in Madison Valley.
Being a new mom is like being a professional athlete — only harder! In addition to practicing self-care and injury prevention techniques, getting a team of specialists to help you enjoy the postpartum period is essential.
Aaron Shaw is a registered and licensed occupational therapist, certified hand therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist. He operates MoveMend, a clinic located at 2818 E. Madison St. in Seattle.