Motherhood Is A Handful — Make Sure Your Hands Are Up To the Task

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Can you imagine being reluctant to hold your new baby because every time you try a sharp pain shoots through your wrist? Or not being able to breastfeed your child because severe wrist pain makes the position too difficult? Did you know that women who are pregnant, nursing, or postpartum are at a higher risk for acquiring certain hand problems?

The most common hand issue that pregnant women face is carpal tunnel syndrome. Increased swelling in the body puts added pressure on one of the nerves that run through the wrist, causing uncomfortable sensations in the hand. If you find yourself suddenly becoming clumsy and dropping things, you may have this condition. Carpal tunnel syndrome is characterized by tingling and numbness at the thumb, index, and middle finger as well as half of the ring finger, particularly at night.

“All four of my pregnancies, I had carpal tunnel,” recalls mother Gayle Henry. “I wore braces on my hands, which helped, and it went away within a few months of all four births and has not recurred.” Wearing a cock-up splint at night keeps the wrist in a position that takes pressure off the nerve, which can help to alleviate symptoms. On a pregnant woman, surgery is generally not performed for this condition because symptoms usually decline postpartum, but hand therapy may help.

As babies grow, constant pressure on a mother’s hands can cause other difficulties. Some mothers experience sharp pains in one or both wrists when attempting to lift their children. Also known as “mommy thumb,” De Quervain’s Syndrome causes swelling of the tendons on the thumb side of the hand. The best way to avoid repetitive strain injuries is to alternate the way you carry out certain tasks. Instead of lifting your baby by the armpits with your thumb and forefinger in an “L” shape, try positioning your hand under your baby’s bottom. Icing and resting the wrist will decrease inflammation; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications may be helpful as well. (Check with your doctor before use, especially if you are breastfeeding.) In some cases, your doctor may suggest a cortisone injection or hand therapy.

Nursing moms are particularly prone to hand trouble. According to Teresa Pitman, co-author of Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding, the “cross-cradle hold,” in which the mother supports her baby’s weight with the arm opposite the breast nourishing the baby, puts a strain on the hand, wrist, and arm in use. Holding your baby like this for an extended period of time causes numbness and tingling as well as a great deal of pain. The position is meant as a teaching position for newborns, but often breastfeeding mothers continue to use it as their babies get bigger, says Pitman. Make sure both you and your baby are fully supported at all times; neither of you should be straining in any way. Remember not to stay in any one position for an extended period. Check out the What to Expect website for resources on proper breastfeeding positions.

If you are experiencing any kind of hand, wrist, or arm pain while pregnant or postpartum, it is important to seek medical attention early. There may be a simple solution to make motherhood that much easier.

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Allison Cohen (OTR/L, CHT) received her MS in occupational therapy from New York University. Allison became a certified hand therapist in 2017. Currently, Allison works for United Sportscare and Physical Therapy in Paramus, NJ and specializes in treating people of all ages who have suffered from elbow, wrist, or hand injuries.  Common conditions Allison treats are fractures, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendon injuries, trigger finger, cumulative trauma disorders and arthritis.  She has been trained in custom splinting and the use of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization, kinesiotaping, and physical agent modalities.  Living in New Milford, NJ, Allison enjoys spending time with her husband and playing hide-and-seek with her 1 year old daughter.  She can be contacted at acohen@sportscare1.com.