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Tips To Help New Mothers Suffering From ‘Baby Wrist’

Having a baby is full of challenges, but why do so many new mothers complain about wrist pain after giving birth? The hormonal changes, including the huge drop in progesterone levels, explain why but what can you do about it? Tony Kochhar is an expert in this field and offers practical tips that can help.

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The time after pregnancy can be difficult for new mothers. The rollercoaster of hormone fluctuations do not help and have been linked to several problems post partum. Progesterone is normally high during pregnancy, but can sometimes fall too low after delivery. Progesterone is essential for maintaining bones.  This, along with other hormonal changes can lead to significant problems following birth, particularly ‘baby wrist.’

Why It Happens

Many mothers complain of wrist pain after pregnancy. This can range from a mild irritation when picking up your baby, to severe pain that leaves you unable to grip with your thumb. As with many conditions surrounding pregnancy, some of the blame is down to hormones. During pregnancy your body undergoes various hormonal changes. These affect many parts of your body and how it works, including your ligaments and tendons. One particular culprit is a hormone called relaxin. Unsurprisingly one of the roles relaxin has in the pregnant body is the ‘relaxation’ of ligaments. Due to the increasing size of the foetus and the necessity of delivery, it is thought it relaxes the ligaments around the pelvis. This allows greater space and an increase in the size of the birth canal between the pelvic bones. Unfortunately relaxin can have a systemic effect. In other words, it can affect many ligaments and tendons in the body, including those around the wrist and thumb.

New mothers are particularly prone to exacerbation of any hormone-induced tendon weakness. Picking up and holding babies quickly becomes a common routine. This places a new stress on the tendons of the thumb that they were not used to before. Babies are still reasonably heavy and the tendons and supporting muscles of the wrist and thumb have not had time to become conditioned. Baby wrist can be exacerbated even further by certain ways you hold your baby. Feeding is a common complaint due to the unnatural position your wrist can be put it when holding your baby, especially when using a bottle. Couple these new strains with the lax ligaments and tendons, and the result is pain and inflammation. This pain is sometimes called ‘baby wrist’ and is due to a condition called deQuervain’s tenosynovitis. Tendons attach muscle to bone. DeQuervain’s affects two tendons of the thumb. You can find these tendons on yourself. Do the ‘thumbs up’ sign and then feel around the base of the back of the thumb where it meets the wrist. There should be two tendons that feel about a fingers width apart.

An easy way to understand what tendonitis is like, think of them like a brake cable on a bicycle. The cable is the tendon, and the surrounding black plastic sheath is called a synovium. The synovium contains a lubricating fluid, much like the oil in a brake cable. This allows the tendon to move within the sheath without catching. In tendosynovitis, the synovium becomes inflamed, hampering this lubricated movement. Unsurprisingly this causes pain because the tendon can no longer move smoothly. The new repetitive use and strain from picking up and holding babies on a tendon weakened by hormones tendon inflamed and you in pain. There is an easy test you can do at home to check if your wrist pain might be deQuervain’s tenosynovitis. Bend your thumb into your palm and then close your fingers around it. Your hand should now be in a fist with your thumb being gripped within it. Now bend your wrist away from your thumb (cock your wrist downwards, stretching the thumb side of your wrist). If you feel pain around your thumb or in the wrist near the thumb then you might have deQuervain’s.

What You Can Do

It is important to treat deQuervain’s quickly and not just ignore it. For some it will go away on its own as the requirements of holding a baby diminish due to their growing development and independence. However, for others it can lead to a chronic inflammation that will cause suffering for years to come. The key to treating Baby wrist is recognising it early and prompt treatment.

Treatment will include reducing the activities that aggravate the condition, simple stretches, physiotherapy and splinting. A splint is a strapping that holds the thumb still, reducing thumb movement and thus reduces inflammation, allowing the tendons to heal. Make sure to get one that is specially designed to fit your hand and wrist (thermoplastic). Avoid off-the-shelf splints as these may exacerbate the condition. The splint may need to be worn during the day time as well as at night. This is because the activity and movements that are causing the problem occur during the day.

For some people anti-inflammatory injections or surgery may be required if the splint is not enough. The important message is to ensure good progesterone levels for strong healthy bones and to see a specialist if necessary so that the problem does not snowball into a chronic pain that can be much harder to treat.

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Mr Tony Kochhar completed his training at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London and has completed specialist fellowships at worldwide centres of excellence in New York and the Alps Surgery Institute in Annecy, France.  He is the most notable in his field and has the highest success rates of recoveries.

His treatments include physiotherapy, shoulder surgery, elbow surgery, sports injuries, Xiapex treatments for Dupuytren’s Contracture, wrist and hand surgery, injection therapy and osteopathy.  He can be contacted via his website at http://www.shoulderdoctor.co.uk/

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Please feel free to discuss this article in the comments section below, but note that the author cannot respond to queries made there.
Comments 14
Sorted by:  Date | Recommended
Mirriam B | 10:47 am, September 12th, 2017

How I wish I had seen this article before giving birth to my beautiful twins. After 6months I still suffer from deQuervain’s and I am still breastfeeding. Last week I went to see an orthopaedic surgeon, he gave me some steroid injection on both my wrists. 5 days later I can finally feel the difference, I can now hold a pen. Unfortunately I cannot pick up my babies for now as I am trying to make sure that I heal so that I can get back to my normal duties at work. I am just keeping my fingers crossed hoping it will work within the next 6 weeks, otherwise will have to go for surgery.

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anu | 12:06 pm, February 23rd, 2017

I had severe pain in my right wrist after my first pregnancy. Consulted several doctors and was on pain killer and steroid injection but in vain finally suggested for surgery. Before going for surgery I tried Acupuncture tand did about 5 session and I was cured. Hope it work for you all. No harm in trying.

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Naydia Nangamso | 2:30 am, February 17th, 2017

Thank you so much for this article, truly informative. This is my first pregnancy and I have never heard of or been warned about “baby wrist”, it’s all new to me. I have realized that not all women go through this, had this been the case, I wouldn’t have come on this platform to find out about it. It’ll help for those of us in-the know to inform others who might be suffering in silence & aren’t informed about this. From reading the above article, one can deduce that, if gone untreated it can lead to chronic inflammation that could affect one for many years to come. It sounds pretty serious. Typing this comment was a pain, but I felt it was necessary to do so.

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Andreea | 11:18 pm, December 5th, 2016

I started having the pain in my left wrist during my last trimester of pregnancy, it started with a branula being placed in my wrist and I blamed the pain on the branula and waited for it to just go away (it is one year since then but the pain never went away). Soon after birth (9 months ago) my other wrist started hurting just the same and the pain i had in both wrists got so bad I couldn’t hold my baby. I can’t use splints cause that would prevent me from using any of my arms, difficult when you have a baby. I am also breastfeeding so I believe steroids are out of the question. What other option do I have? The pain is always there, it just goes up or down in intensity

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AnnA Rushton | 8:08 pm, November 19th, 2016

You need to consult with either a chiropractor or physiotherapist to help you deal with this pain or ask your doctor for a recommendation for further treatment.

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tolu | 4:39 pm, November 19th, 2016

I started having this pain in my third trimester. It became so serious after I gave birth so I ended up taking the injection (steroid). The pain went away for some months about 3/4 months. Now my baby is just 8months and the pain is back. I try using the brace/ splint recommended by my doc but it renders that hand useless after wearing it but I won’t feel the pain at that time. I don’t wanna keep using tylenol. Pls help me what else can I do????

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AnnA Rushton | 6:30 pm, November 13th, 2016

Joi as the article recommended, a splint and some physio together with good progesterone levels from Serenity is the best plan to help with this. Your progesterone levels will have plummeted after you gave birth so do start there.

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Joi mac | 3:10 am, November 7th, 2016

My wrist and thumb are in pain..both arms..it started when i was 7 mos pregnant..and now i gave birth 3mos ago, im still in pain. I went to doc and was adv of injection (steroid), but i’ll try to get other advces from other doc first.. im using splint as well.
Any suggestion?
Appreciate ur reply.

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Joi mac | 3:04 am, November 7th, 2016

I have thumb and wristpain on my both hands. I gave birth 3 mos ago..

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AnnA Rushton | 12:52 pm, July 24th, 2016

If the tips in the article have not helped, you must speak to your doctor to have this investigated further.

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moonmoon chakraborty | 10:16 am, July 24th, 2016

After four months of my c section still I am facing pain n stiffness in my wrist n thumb. Doctor given me liofen but not getting relief.what can I do now plz reply

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Ezekiel Isaac | 11:25 am, June 4th, 2016

Can deQuervain’s affect my two hands? Please what can I do?. Thanks

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AnnA Rushton | 3:22 pm, July 24th, 2015

The author has not sent us any more articles but it may be helpful for you to speak to a physiotherapist or chiropractor to help with this.

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ofure | 3:58 pm, July 22nd, 2015

Thanks, please have the exact pain for the past three months plus. And this my first baby. I hope is not too late for me?.i have tired massage but it get worsen. Please send me more tips.

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