Just when you thought you couldn't get any clumsier, you may experience a numbness or tingling sensation in your hands, especially in your thumb and first three fingers. It might become painful to type or close your hand around your water bottle, or you may feel pain that radiates from your wrist to your neck and shoulder.
These are hallmark symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, another side effect of your increased swelling. Typically affecting people whose jobs demand repetitive motions such as typing on a computer keyboard, carpal tunnel syndrome is named for the carpal tunnel in the wrist, a hollow region that houses nerves and ligaments leading to your hand. When the tissue swells in this tunnel, it can press on the nerves and cause numbness, pins-and-needles tingling, or burning sensations.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be especially aggravating at night, when fluid has pooled in your extremities. Sleep with your hands propped up on a pillow to encourage fluid to drain to other regions of your body. If you work on a keyboard or do other repetitive motions on the job, examine your environment to see what you can do to rest your hands more. Take more breaks or alter your position to avoid putting pressure on the nerves in your wrist. For instance, lower your computer keyboard so that you type with your wrists angled downward. You can also wear a plastic splint (available in pharmacies) to stabilize your wrists and keep them straight. Shake your hands vigorously from time to time to dispel the tingling.
About 25 percent of women get carpal tunnel syndrome while pregnant. Although the condition can be painful, the good news is that, in all but 2 percent of cases, it goes away on its own after you've delivered your baby. (It might take a few weeks longer if you're nursing because hormone and fluid levels will fluctuate then too.) However, if you find that it's seriously impairing your job performance, sleep, or overall comfort, ask your practitioner about treatments and physical therapy.
Other causes of numbness
Some pregnant women experience a feeling of pins and needles in their hands that's not related to carpal tunnel syndrome. Some even feel it in their feet. This sensation is usually your body's way of telling you that your hands and feet are not getting enough blood or that a nerve is being compressed.
Why it happens. Babies sometimes find a favorite position in the uterus that is quite comfortable for them but not so great for you because the uterus presses on your blood vessels, narrowing them and keeping blood from flowing freely. Other babies can sit directly on your nerves, sending zinging pain into your buttocks or down the back of your leg.
Getting relief. Numbness is sometimes relieved by shifting positions while sitting or lying down or by drinking plenty of fluids, which helps reduce swelling. Shaking the feet and hands (with fingers and toes pointed downward) can pump up the circulation to your extremities. And any kind of aerobic exercise-swimming, walking, stationary cycling-increases the blood circulation throughout the body.
If your hands or feet feel cold when numbness strikes, heat sometimes helps. When the body is cold, blood circulation to the arms and legs slows down in order to keep organs such as the heart and lungs warm. Soak your hands or feet in warm (not hot) water or warm them up with a hot-water bottle or heating pad.
Mention it to your doctor. In very rare cases it can be a symptom of diabetes, thyroid disease, vitamin B12 deficiency, heart disease, or multiple sclerosis.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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