Mum-related hand problems and tips to avoid them

Mummy’s Thumb

Motherhood, for all of its amazing rewards and benefits, can be taxing on the body as minor aches and pains quickly turn into full-fledged repetitive strain injuries. The movements mothers perform every day such as lifting an infant from a crib, or hunching over to breastfeed, are some of the common causes of wrist pain.


It is common for us to meet new mothers in our clinic experiencing soreness and discomfort at the base of their thumbs, near the wrist. This is especially typical within a few weeks of welcoming a new family member. A condition known as de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, also sometimes referred to as “Mummy’s Thumb” or “Mummy’s Wrist”, can cause a lot of new mums to suffer from pain in the wrist and thumb. The pain can also radiate up the forearm, especially with the movement of the thumb or hand. 


What Is De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis? 

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is a condition in which the tendons from the thumb to wrist become inflamed. This inflammation causes them to rub against the “tunnel” enclosing the tendons, resulting in symptoms that cause mild discomfort to severe pain on the thumb side of the wrist. 



Severe Pain on Thumb Side of Wrist


Anyone can develop de Quervain’s throughout their lives, but this is most common in new mothers and usually stems from stress on the wrist that is caused by the frequent lifting of a baby. Another common cause would be breastfeeding. A baby is likely to feed up to 12 times a day, with each session lasting between 20 to 40 minutes. Since a mother has to be in a fixed position for the entire feed session, it can put a lot of strain on their wrists.


Breastfeeding causes a variety of repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) that can affect the wrist, thumb, fingers, forearm, and even elbow. Other common RSIs such as carpal tunnel syndrome or trigger finger can sometimes be confused with de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. However, hand specialists in Singapore can accurately diagnose de Quervain’s by understanding the symptoms that you’re experiencing, as well as your lifestyle and routine. Some of the common symptoms include: 

  • Pain or swelling on the thumb and rear side of the wrist 
  • Pain when forming a fist or rotation of wrists


One important tip is to seek medical advice early. Mild to moderate stages of de Quervain’s can be typically treated with rest, brace, or splint, as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers. In certain cases, your hand specialist may also recommend corticosteroid injections to reduce swelling. While this injection is considered safe, be sure to inform your doctor if you’re breastfeeding. 


Lifestyle Changes You Can Make 

Mummy’s thumb or wrist can be frustrating, especially because it’s hard for mothers to avoid lifting their children throughout the day. What makes this condition worse is that there is no way to tell if you will have it, until you experience the symptoms. Aside from early recognition and treatment that are key to making the condition go away, you can also make lifestyle changes to relieve the pain. If you are suffering from de Quervain’s, here are three ways to help you get a grip on the pain: 


1. Lift your baby differently

If you are feeling discomfort in your thumb and wrist, then perhaps the most important thing you can do at the moment is to prevent further irritation of the wrist tendons. This can be done by changing the way you lift your baby. Instead of picking your baby up from under the arms, you can scoop him by lifting under his or her bottom. When you lift your baby up from under the arms, with your fingers on his or her back and thumbs on his chest (L-shape), it puts the most strain and pressure on your thumb and wrist. Another handy tip by our hand specialist is to keep the palm of your hand facing up as it redistributes pressure that can aggravate the tendons.


2. Your breastfeeding position matters


Using A Pillow For Support


Nursing positions such as the cradle can put a strain on a mother’s wrist, especially when inflammation is already present. Lessen the pain and strain by using a pillow for support, so that the full weight of your baby’s head is not resting in your hand. 


3. Wear a splint

A splint that immobilises the thumb can be effective, especially when used early,  in helping to reduce swelling of the tendon, thereby relieving discomfort. While immobilisation makes everyday tasks seem more difficult, most mothers will see improvement with splint use after a couple of weeks. Thus, it’s important to use it regularly and consistently.


Lifting and Carrying of The Baby


4. Get enough rest

Wearing a splint may help reduce discomfort, but rest is just as important. If possible, you can have your partner do part of the lifting and carrying of the  baby, so that you have time to rest your wrist and thumb. In addition, try to limit the use of smartphones since sliding and scrolling your screen may compound the pain of your already-inflamed tendons, resulting in your condition worsening.


5. Consult a hand specialist 

It is best to consult a hand or wrist specialist in Singapore if the pain persists even after you have tried a range of home remedies. Upon diagnosis, your hand doctor may suggest treatments ranging from oral medications to physical therapy, or steroid injections. Unless your condition is very severe, the doctor will not recommend surgery. 


We know that life as a new mum can be busy, but it’s important to not ignore any pain in your wrist and hands. Get your wrist pain assessed early so that you can make a quicker recovery and get back to enjoying time with your baby. Visit the Advanced Hand Centre for a consultation with Dr Jacqueline Tan today.