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Hands Down: Tips for Soothing Aching Hands

There's no other hands-on occupation quite like motherhood. And the demands of the job -- lifting, holding, bathing, dressing, and carrying a baby -- can really take their toll on your hands and wrists.

Hormonal changes following pregnancy and during breastfeeding can make these areas particularly vulnerable to discomfort or pain. "The fluctuations cause fluid retention, which puts extra pressure onto tendons in the hands and wrists," says Leslie Harris, president of the hand rehabilitation section of the American Physical Therapy Association.

Preventing Pain

You can prevent or minimize discomfort by modifying the way you perform certain tasks. In general, you'll be better off when you can use your forearms -- which have larger muscles -- in addition to or instead of your hands, says Harris. When carrying an infant's car seat, for instance, try resting the handle on your forearm instead of carrying it in one hand. And holding your baby on your forearm (with her head in the fold of your elbow) if she's small enough, or wrapping your forearm across her belly (with her facing out), can ease the stress on the smaller muscles of your hands.

Stretch Them Out

Warming up the muscles in the hands and wrists first thing in the morning can also help:

  • With your arms straight out in front of you, palms facing the ceiling, keep your fingers straight and bend your wrists, reaching your fingertips toward the floor. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then relax.
  • Extend your arms straight out in front of you, only this time face your palms toward the floor. Make gentle fists and bend your wrists toward the floor. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then relax.

Massaging each hand is another way to relieve pain. Using one hand or a small ball, start at the base of your fingers and work your way up through the palm and wrist. The pressure doesn't have to be deep to be effective. "Think of it as trying to milk some of the fluid out of the tissues," says Harris.

A soak in water of alternating temperatures can also help decrease swelling and ease soreness: Move your hands back and forth between bowls of cold and warm water for a total of 5 to 10 minutes.