I admit, while not a medical term, new baby painful wrist and hand syndrome accurately describes what so many new mums, including me, have all experienced. Medically, it's referred to as tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome and is common among new mums. Carpal tunnel or wrist tendonitis is irritation and inflammation of the tendons of the wrist. Pain is the main symptom and there can also be swelling of the local area. The tendons get inflamed through repetitive motion such as picking up the baby and holding the baby in position while breastfeeding.
In my case, for example, sharp pain would shoot from my right thumb up my arm whenever I picked up my daughter. The pain was so intense it would make me cry out loud. In the same way you pull your hand away when you burn yourself, I began to fear dropping my baby as a reflex reaction to the pain. I purchased a wrist brace but found it way too uncomfortable so I developed a particularly ungraceful way of picking up my daughter by leaning in really close to her and scooping her up with my forearms. Using this technique I could avoid opening my hands to pick her up in the usual way under her arms. It looked really strange but it worked until I found time between feedings, exhaustion and new mum anxiety to schedule an acupuncture treatment.
In my own business as an acupuncturist, I had treated many cases of tendonitis and carpal syndrome. Some were new mums, some were athletes, one was a drummer, and most were office workers spending hours on the computer. Whatever the cause of the pain, acupuncture helped all of them, quickly and effectively. So naturally I turned to acupuncture when I needed it. Since it's really difficult to do acupuncture on yourself, I turned to a colleague for help. After the first treatment, the pain was much better and by the third treatment, the pain was significantly reduced and much less frequent. A couple more treatments were all that was needed to get rid of the pain.
What are the usual options for these painful wrists? A doctor will most likely prescribe steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as prednisolone or a cortisone injection directly into the wrist. While these can help, many prescription medications are not advisable for the mum who is breastfeeding as they can seep into the breast milk.
This makes acupuncture a great alternative as it has no side effects. And a 2009 clinical trial published in the Clinical Journal of Pain concluded that short-term acupuncture treatment is as effective as short-term low-dose prednisolone for mild-to-moderate carpal tunnel syndrome 1.
1. Yang CP, Hsieh CL, et al., Clinical Journal of Pain, 2009 May; 25(4): 327-33 Acupuncture in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome: A randomized controlled trial