New mommy's thumb can hinder the care you give to baby

Jan 19, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. ET

Around a week or two postpartum, you might notice a slight pull or snapping sound as you move your hand.


But what starts as nothing more than a minor inconvenience could turn into a chronic, burning inflammation that inhibits the care you give to your newborn baby. Here are the details of this post-pregnancy condition called DeQuervain's tendonitis, aka "new mommy's thumb."

Oh snap, that was my wrist!

The new parenthood bliss may still be strong in your house when you first notice that something isn't quite right after you grasp your little one. This common condition, often referred to simply as "DeQuervain's" after the doctor who discovered it in 1895, can come out of seemingly nowhere. And if it's not taken care of promptly, the initial snap heard when flexing your hand can lead to scar tissue and calcium buildup at the base of the thumb.

Technically, anyone can get this condition from gardening, playing music, knitting, cooking or tennis. But the bulk of cases belong to new moms.

When you grip, grasp or pick up a new baby with your hands, two major tendons in your wrist and lower thumb are getting a work out. And while these tendons, which run side by side from your forearm through the thumb, usually glide easily through a small tunnel, inflammation can render them useless.

Who gets this?

A 2004 study published in The Journal for Roentgenology, for diagnostic imaging and related sciences, found that moms who have big babies are particularly susceptible to DeQuervain's.

"Repetitive low-grade trauma to the wrist and thumb is a result of prolonged carrying of large heavy babies," the study states.

In addition, mothers who breastfeed retain more water weight, aggravating the area while increasing the amount of time the wrist is in use.


Factors such as how close a new mother lives to family can also make a difference in who gets this condition. Moms that live far away from family tend to hold their infants for longer periods of time with more repetitive hand motion.

What you can do


Catching the symptoms early and immobilizing your thumb is the most important measure you can take to avoid complications.

A physical therapist can mold a special brace with a "thumb spica," which stabilizes the wrist and base of the thumb. The tendons need time to rest and repair and constant hand movements will only increase the inflammation.

If the brace doesn't work, steroid shots are available. However, these shots only mask the pain for a period of time, just as other over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pills do.

After all other remedies are exhausted, a doctor might recommend a "releasing surgery," where the sheath which covers the tendons of the wrist is cut to allow more room for fluid and movement. Surgery should, however, be avoided at all costs because the results are often imperfect and can lead to other painful problems of the hand.

Read more on postpartum care

Caring for your body after baby
New mom survival guide
Postpartum fitness tips to bounce back after baby