Why Your Baby Could Be Giving You Mommy Thumb


mommy thumb“De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, aka mommy thumb, is painful and common among new parents, mostly moms. Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

If you’re a new mom, there’s a good chance you’ve felt it: pain along the side of your thumbs and wrists. The pain can feel tender and swollen, and it might even feel like your thumb gets stuck for a second when you try to move it. You especially feel it when you hook your hands under your wee one’s armpits and lift them up.

Officially, this pain is a symptom of de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, which is very fun to say. Unofficially, people call this mommy thumb, since it’s 10 times more likely to occur in women. But what exactly is this injury, and are mommies the only people who get it?

More Than Moms

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is related to trigger finger, which is called stenosing tenosynovitis. In the case of mommy thumb, it’s the inflammation of the tendons that run along the thumb and wrist and through the radius, one of your forearm bones. The tendon is covered by tissue called tenosynovium that keeps things lubricated and moving smoothly.

But there are a bunch of things that can cause the tendons and tissue to become irritated and inflamed, such as:

  • Lifting a baby the same way dozens of times a day
  • Holding a baby’s head with your thumb cocked to the side while breastfeeding
  • Fluid retention during and after pregnancy
  • Texting and swiping with your thumbs
  • Previous injuries that left scar tissue

A quarter to half of all new mothers will experience mommy thumb, though of course any parent who lifts their baby a lot and uses a smartphone is prone to this tendon injury. But the U.S. Navy studied years’ worth of data and found that the highest-risk groups were women, patients over age 40 and Black patients.

de Quervain syndrome“De Quervain syndrome, aka mommy thumb, is when the two tendons and their sheath in your wrist and thumb become inflamed. VectorMine/Shutterstock

How to Baby Your Thumbs

Most cases of mommy thumb go away with rest and rehab. It can be difficult — if not impossible — to imagine resting your thumb while caring for a baby, but a sore tendon really hurts. NSAIDs like ibuprofen help with the pain when you can’t rest your hand.

When you have a minute to yourself, rest your thumb in a neutral position with ice on it. A neutral position, by the way, looks like what your hand does when you’re floating in a hot tub. You can strap on a wrist brace to stabilize the joint and remind yourself to take care.

Once your wrist is feeling a bit better, you can try some gentle stretches and strengthening exercises. Changing the way you do repetitive motions will help too. Lift your baby using your palms instead of relying on your wrists to do all the work, and tuck a pillow under their head while they breastfeed. If you use breastfeeding or pumping time to check email and scroll your feeds, use your index finger instead of your thumb.

Now That’s a Different Injury

Carpal tunnel syndrome is like mommy thumb in that it involves pain in the wrist. But CTS is caused by pressure on the median nerve, which runs through the carpal tunnel on the palm side of your wrist rather than the thumb side. Both are caused by repetitive movements, but they involve different structures in this incredibly intricate joint.

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