Can We Talk About Our Weak Hands During Pregnancy?
Doctors explain how your baby bump relates to your hands and wrists, and what you can do to ease the pain at home.
What part of your body doesn’t feel different when you get pregnant? If you’ve noticed those mom-to-be bodily changes have made it harder to hold your phone or open jars, you may be wondering why your hands feel weak, numb, or even tingly during pregnancy. Well, many women find that pregnancy-related swelling affects their wrists and hands negatively, and can even lead to pain and discomfort on top of weakness.
The truth is, there's a lot of extra fluid circulating in the body during pregnancy, Dr. Rachel Urrutia, board-certified OB-GYN at UNC Health, tells Romper in an interview. And for some women, this can lead to those weird feelings of numbness and weakness in the hands and wrists. “In pregnancy, there’s a different fluid balance in the body, so there’s a little bit more circulating blood volume to support the baby,” she says. “Some of that extra fluid goes into the rest of the body. That can lead to a little more fluid surrounding your tissues, and the nerves that are going through very narrow tunnels anyway are susceptible to getting compressed when that fluid level is higher. That can lead to numbness and weakness, and it tends to only be in certain fingers of the hand.”
Carpal Tunnel During Pregnancy
This extra fluid can even cause carpal tunnel, according to Abigail Burns, M.D., OB-GYN at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Edema, or swelling, is really common during pregnancy. Women who have that swelling are also more likely to develop carpal tunnel, which is when that swelling presses on the nerve in the wrist, and can cause more pain and tingling.”
Burns and Urrutia agree that you don’t have to be visibly puffy or swollen to experience carpal tunnel-like issues — even a little bit of fluid can compress the nerves responsible. there are ways to ease these symptoms at home, like wearing wrist braces to sleep and avoiding repetitive motions that make your symptoms worse.
Treatment For Weak, Numb Hands During Pregnancy
“If it’s carpal tunnel in the wrist, especially if she’s doing something repetitive like typing, she may need to think about getting work modifications so she doesn’t have to stress her joints. Cooking and chopping can be a trigger. You can either get help with those things, or cook things that don’t require as much chopping, and just rest it,” Urrutia says.
“Typically, the most common time people have symptoms is in the morning because when we sleep, we sleep with our wrists compressed or at funny angles. The first step is to try wrist splints at home while you’re sleeping to hold the hand in a neutral position,” says Burns. “Other things I recommend are using ice packs if you need to, being cautious about your wrist positioning while typing and using your phone, and Tylenol if it’s painful, which is safe for pregnancy.”
If you’ve never experienced these hand or wrist issues before, both docs say they’ll probably go away shortly after your baby is born. That said, you should always bring up any issues with your doctor — not only can they give you helpful advice, but they can ask extra questions to make sure it’s just some good old-fashioned carpal tunnel instead of something serious.
“If she has some mild symptoms, especially if it’s numbness when she wakes up that goes away, or difficulty opening things but able to do her daily activities, a lot of times it’ll get better after the pregnancy,” Urrutia says. “If she’s unable to do her daily activities, she should definitely see someone. I would recommend people always discuss the symptoms with their provider to be sure there’s nothing signaling something worse than carpal tunnel.”
“If you notice one side is much more swollen or painful compared to the other, that’s a reason to call and check in with your provider,” adds Burns. “Rarely, women can get a blood clot in pregnancy and it can lead to one side with swelling and pain.”
Rachel Urrutia, M.D., board-certified OB-GYN at UNC Health
Abigail Burns, M.D., OB-GYN at Brigham and Women’s Hospital