New parenthood often comes with a certain amount of pain. Some of it is unavoidable – recovering from delivery and breastfeeding injuries takes time. But even if you didn’t deliver a baby and you aren’t breastfeeding, there is still much pain to be had! My own husband suffered from major wrist and back pain after our first son arrived – niceties such as “alignment” and “bending from the knees” tend to get forgotten in that new-parent fog of war. But over time, awkwardly holding a baby can lead to major issues in the neck, back and wrists.
A pretty typical new-parent problem is De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis, or pain and inflammation on the thumb side of your wrist. My own doctor described this to me as “housewife’s thumb”, a term that that comes from the millions of repetitive, non-ergonomic tasks that caregivers do all day long.
I spoke to Stephanie Leaf, a physical therapist specialising in postpartum issues and the director of New Leaf Physical Therapy, for her best advice on avoiding and treating the pain caused by caring for a newborn.
When you’re holding or rocking the baby, don’t wrap your hands and fingers around the baby while bending your wrist at an acute angle, which compresses the nerves in your thumb and wrist. Repeated pressure in that area can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. And don’t jut your hip out to one side, which throws your hip, back and neck out of alignment, says Leaf.
What Leaf says you should do: Stand with your hips even and your pelvis in line with your body. Keep your hands open and flat to support the baby, but use the strength from entire body – don’t just clench your hands and wrists around the baby and clutch the baby to you.
It's understandable that pregnant women focus their planning on the impending delivery. Whether it's going to be a C-section or vaginal birth, at home or in a hospital, smooth jazz or screaming. You might even have made up a detailed 'birth plan', complete with instructions for pain meds; lighting preferences; and a plan for video, photos and cutting the cord.Read more
Rachel Foley, a paediatric occupational therapist writing for CanDoKiddo, suggests thinking of your hands as a bulldozer rather than a forklift – don’t approach the baby with your thumbs at a 90-degree angle from your hands and lift her with your hands and thumbs on either side of her armpits; instead keep your hands and thumbs flat and scoop her from under the tush and back.
Another not-so-great thing about early parenthood: Our phones, which can be a lifeline for support and companionship, are operated mainly by our thumbs. So obsessive scrolling can exacerbate wrist and thumb problems. For a good stretch of time when I had a newborn, I tried to limit my use of the phone, switching to my desktop as much as I could, and using my fingers instead of my thumb to scroll.
Now, as always when we’re talking about health issues, if it’s bad, talk to your doctor. She might recommend ice, splints, anti-inflammatories, cortisone shots or, worst-case, surgery. And, of course, rest – like that’s possible if you have an infant.
Have other new-baby related pain? Stay tuned for our other posts on handling a baby ergonomically.
This is the first instalment in the Postpartum Pain Clinic, a multi-part series on managing the aches and pains that come along with caring for newborns and infants.