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wrist pain while nursing

Preventing Wrist Pain When Nursing

by Shelia M. Tenny, OTR/L, CHTLeave a Comment

After the mental and physical changes brought on by pregnancy, the last thing that a new mother wants to experience is pain in her wrists and hands from nursing or feeding her newborn baby. Getting an infant to latch on can be hard enough under normal conditions, and yet the feeling of “pins and needles” or wrist pain, can makes things even more difficult.

There are several reasons that new mothers may begin to experience hand and wrist pain. During pregnancy, most women experience swelling and edema throughout their body, especially in the latter months of pregnancy, due to changing hormones. This increased fluid in the body also leads to increased pressure in the carpal tunnel, which can cause tingling and numbness in the thumb, index, and middle fingers, along with burning and pain when pressure is put on the median nerve. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months after delivery for symptoms to resolve, but does usually resolve on its own. New mothers are tasked to complete many repetitive motions when picking up an infant from washing bottles to washing and folding lots of tiny baby clothes all while attending to the needs of their infant and potentially other children as well. These repetitive motions, along with sustained postures of prolonged bent wrists when nursing, can contribute to increased pain in a new mother’s wrist and thumbs.

For the new mothers or mothers-to-be, we’d like to pass on a few tips to help prevent or stop pain in your hands when nursing your newborn:

  • First make certain that you are comfortable and are sitting in a comfortable chair that supports both your back and arms. Don’t forget to support your feet on a foot stool as well. Having the mother comfortable will make it easier for the infant to latch on.
  • Latching is going to be easiest if the baby’s belly is turned toward your body, to facilitate a good latch.
  • Consider using a sling when nursing or feeding to support the weight of the baby instead of holding your infant with your hands.
  • Pay attention to the position of your wrists and hands and avoid prolonged bending of your wrists during feeding. Avoid supporting your baby’s body weight with your hands. Instead, look for ways to support the infant’s head under your elbow, with a special breastfeeding pillow, rolled blankets or towels to support the baby while feeding.
  • Consider breastfeeding while lying down on your side or in a semi-reclined position which allows the baby’s weight to be supported by the mother’s body when the baby lies tummy down against the mother’s chest.
  • Another nursing position to consider is the football or clutch hold. This avoids pressure on your stomach, which may be helpful if you’ve had a C-section. Position your baby at your side, facing towards you, with baby’s legs and body tucked under your arm (yes, like the Heisman Trophy) on the same side as the breast you’re nursing from. You can use a pillow under your arm for support.
  • Some nursing pillows have an adjustable strap that allows the mother to raise or lower the pillow to the correct position to support the mother’s arms and the baby’s weight. There are even nursing pillows specifically designed to assist in feeding multiples.
  • If you are still experiencing discomfort, consider wearing a wrist brace to keep your wrist in a neutral position. Avoid prolonged flexion of your wrist, which may be worn during feeding. Sleeping with the brace can keep you wrist in the proper position to avoid further irritation.
  • Apply a cold compress over achy areas for up to 10 minutes, several times a day.

Lastly, if you are still not comfortable, consider talking with a lactation consultant, or consider a free assessment or telehealth visit with an Athletico therapist to assist in resolving your symptoms.

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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

Wand, J., (1990) Carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy and lactation. Journal of Hand Surgery [Br] Feb;15(1);93-95.
Wand, J., (1998) The natural history ofo carpal tunnel syndrome in lactation. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Jun;82:349-350.
Bonyata, K., Carpal tunnel syndrome in breastfeeding mothers. Retrieved from ttps://
Shepherd, S., (2016) How to prevent wrist pain while breastfeeding. Retrieved from
Schiedel, B., (2018) Do you really need a nursing pillow? Retrieved from

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About the Author:
Shelia Tenny is an Occupational Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist. She is passionate about helping those with hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder pain, including arthritis, sprains, strains, fractures, tendon, and nerve injuries. Sheila has certifications in ergonomic assessments in the workplace and ASTYM, which uses specialized handheld tools to manipulate soft tissue to facilitate healing and tissue regeneration.

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