That sharp pain in your thumb and wrist may be due to a medical condition known as “mummy thumb”!


You wrap your fingers, thumbs pointed upwards, under your baby’s back, in order to lift your baby. As you pull him up towards you, you feel a sharp, shooting pain in your wrists and thumbs.

Joanne Lee, 32, had this exact experience when she became mum to Noel, 16 months. “Just weeks after he was born, I was already feeling the pain. There was a constant pain in my wrist, especially when I breastfed him in the cradle position,” she recalls. “Not only is it painful, it actually made me resent having to pick him constantly up, which made those early months very emotionally and physically difficult.”

De Quervain’s (wrist) tendonitis, or mummy thumb, affects some 50 per cent of new mothers, says hand surgeon Dr Jonathan Lee.

By the way, this condition can afflict both mummies and daddies, and even grandparents and other primary caregivers. Activities involving repetitive hand or wrist movements, such as gardening, knitting, playing a musical instrument or using a smartphone, can give rise to it.

“Mummy thumb” affects some 50 per cent of new mothers.

What is the cause?
You use two major tendons in your wrist and lower thumb when you grip, grasp, clench, pinch or wring anything in your hand, Dr Lee explains. These tendons run side by side from your forearm through the thumb side of your wrist. They normally glide smoothly through the small tunnel that connects them to the base of the thumb. “In De Quervain’s tendonitis, the gliding sheath becomes inflamed, restricting the movement, causing swelling and pain,” says Dr Lee.

Both mummy thumb and carpal tunnel syndrome are related to an increase in repetitive stresses related to childcare activities like carrying baby. But carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by the compression of the median nerve at the wrist from tendon inflammation, while mummy thumb is cause by the constriction of the tendons as they pass through the tunnel at the wrist.

New mums get “mummy thumb” because they use an improper technique to lift their babies, which strains the thumb and tendons. Says Dr Lee, “The repetitive L-shaped position of the thumb and index finger while lifting, or using the L-shaped thumb and finger position to cradle a baby’s head can cause pain and inflammation.”

How do you ease the condition? Click on!


The heavier the child, the more likely the condition will occur. Constantly lifting your baby from a lower position such as the ground or a crib will further increase your risk of developing “mummy thumb”. Dr Lee adds that mums over the age of 40 are also at higher risk. Plus, “hormonal changes associated with nursing and pregnancy can contribute to tendon swelling and a weaker thumb and wrist function”.

The proper way to lift your baby
We know that you can’t not pick up your child, but you can avoid “mummy thumb” by modifying your lifting technique.

  • Instead of using your thumb and fingers to lift your child, place your hands on both sides of his rib cage and gently squeeze the child to lift.
  • Alternatively, place one hand under your child’s bottom and another hand behind his head to hold him close and lift him.
  • Make sure that you bend your knees to avoid stooping over him, so that you risk hurting your back.

The heavier the child, the more likely the condition will occur.

Treatment options
Dr Lee suggests ways to ease the pain.

  • Modify activities Limit activities that can worsen thumb and wrist discomfort. Use the proper technique to lift your baby.
  • Use a wrist brace or splint These protect and limit your thumb and wrist movement.
  • Cold packs Apply for five to 15 minutes to relieve discomfort.
  • Rehabilitation exercises One example is a wrist flexion. Hold a small weight in your palm facing up. Bend your wrist upward, then slowly lower the weight to the starting position. Do two sets of 15 and gradually increase the weight.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs Taking aspirin or ibuprofen can relieve pain, but check with your doctor.
  • Cortisone injections Your doctor can administer this to reduce the tendon swelling. However, don’t do it more than twice, so as to avoid the adverse effects that may result with chronic steroid use.
  • Surgery Surgery, which usually takes less than 20 minutes, can make more room for the inflamed tendons. A small incision is made under local anaesthesia. Pain relief is quick and recovery usually takes one to three weeks, and the results are permanent.

Photos: iStock

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