Better Me

Caring for a New Baby? Watch Out for Mommy Thumb

You prepared yourself—at least as much as you could—for all of the changes that come with taking care of a new baby. You decorated a nursery, stocked up on diapers and geared up for the sleepless nights. But you might not have expected you would be dealing with the pain of mommy thumb.

Never heard of it? “It’s a wrist and hand condition more formally called de Quervain’s tendinitis,” said Erik Bradley, DO, an orthopedic surgeon at Banner Health Clinic in Gilbert, AZ, who specializes in treating hand conditions. You might also hear it called new mother’s disease or wrist tendonitis.

It’s called mommy thumb since women are often the primary caregivers for young children, so they’re more likely to be affected. But it can affect people of any gender or age. It often appears when your baby is about four to six weeks old.

If you have mommy thumb, you’ll notice pain, swelling, and discomfort on the thumb side of your wrist and the base of your thumb. Symptoms are worse when you lift, grip or twist your wrist.

New parents are prone to mommy thumb because they are often lifting their baby for feeding, comforting or diaper changes. They overuse or injure their tendons, and that triggers inflammation, pain and swelling.

Can you avoid mommy thumb?

“Mommy thumb can be hard to prevent,” Dr. Bradley said. If you start to notice pain, you can try to avoid lifting, turning or twisting your wrists. You can also wear a wrist brace that includes the thumb.

How can you treat mommy thumb?

To treat mommy thumb, you can:

  • Try to avoid activities that trigger pain—use a baby carrier instead of your hands to hold your baby, and prop your baby on a pillow for support during feedings
  • Ice your wrist and the base of your thumb to reduce inflammation
  • Take over-the counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen, or a pain reliever like acetaminophen—ask your doctor what’s safe if you’re breastfeeding
  • Brace your wrist and thumb for support

If you’re not seeing improvement in two to four weeks, or if your pain is severe, talk to your doctor. If at-home treatments aren’t working your doctor might recommend a cortisone injection. If you’re still not getting relief, a minor surgical procedure can help.

The bottom line

New parents and people who care for infants are prone to a type of tendonitis called mommy thumb. “Although the condition can be quite painful and debilitating, it can be successfully treated once it has been diagnosed,” Dr. Bradley said.

Start by modifying your activities, icing your wrist, taking anti-inflammatory medication and bracing your thumb and wrist. If you’re still experiencing pain, talk to your doctor or connect with a Banner Health physician.

For more content for new parents, check out:

Orthopedics Parenting Women's Health