Rib pain is one of the potential discomforts associated with pregnancy, which comes with its own unique set of difficulties. When a woman is pregnant, pain in the ribs can make her feel uncomfortable and get in the way of her daily life. It usually happens as a result of the baby’s expanding size inside the uterus. Pain intensity, however, varies from woman to woman. Even though it can be very painful, rib pain doesn’t hurt your pregnancy or your baby in any way. And the good news is that there are a number of effective and reliable ways to alleviate rib pain during pregnancy.
What Does Pregnancy-Related Rib Pain Feel Like?
The uterus grows right up to your rib cage as your baby grows bigger and bigger. As your baby grows, the ribs at the bottom of your body will get bigger and stick out. This will force those ribs into a position in which they have never been before, pulling your connective tissues along with them. This extra stretching can put stress on the joints where the ribs connect (the spine in the back or the breastbone in the front).
Rib pain during pregnancy feels like your ribs have become dislocated or diverged. Chronic pain in the upper back or rib cage can make even short periods of sitting uncomfortable.
Pain can happen at any time and can range from being bearable to be too much to handle. If you ask where you feel rib pain during pregnancy, the pain can occur on either side of the rib cage or on both sides. However, rib pain during pregnancy on the right side is fairly common.
Is Rib Pain Common During Pregnancy?
Yes. Pregnancy-related rib pain is very common, especially in the last three months. An expecting mother may begin experiencing rib pain around 23 weeks of pregnancy1. Rib pain during pregnancy’s second trimester is more often caused by the expansion of the ribs to accommodate the growing baby. Pain can happen at the end of the second trimester and during the third trimester until the baby starts to move down into the pelvic area near the due date2.
Note: It’s important to remember that you might not feel any rib pain at all at the beginning of your pregnancy. Rib pain during pregnancy in the first trimester should be brought to the doctor’s attention. This may indicate an ectopic pregnancy, but it is extremely uncommon.
What Causes Rib Pain During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy, rib problems are often caused by the body’s response to the increased pressure inside it. Due to the force exerted, the rib’s natural position may be altered, and it may become permanently fixed in a rotated position. Back rib pain during pregnancy can occur on either side, though it is more common on the right side because of the way the liver responds to pressure from the ribs.
As a pregnant woman, you may experience rib pain due to:
1. The baby is growing in size
The expanding uterus presses on your organs and rib cage as your baby grows. At some point, all the organs are pressed up against the ribs, which increases muscle pressure and makes breathing difficult. It is more common for pregnant women with larger babies and smaller waists to experience rib pain3.
2. Changes in hormones
Pregnancy hormones such as relaxin and progesterone cause the muscles and ligaments to loosen up and become more pliable. As a result, your rib cage’s bones may move a little more than they typically do, which can hurt.
Related Reading: Is It Safe To Get A Back Massage During Pregnancy?
3. Baby shifting positions
The baby will begin to shift positions several times during the course of the pregnancy. When the baby changes positions or kicks their feet in the ribcage, it puts extra pressure on the ribs and internal organs. In some cases, this can even lead to pain and discomfort in the ribs.
Rib pain may become harder and stronger as the frequency of movements increases each day. The fetus’s breech position also contributed to the discomfort by increasing the pressure on the rib cage4.
4. Inappropriate sitting posture
Pregnant women with poor posture who sit for long periods of time may develop rib pain. Sitting in positions that restrict rib cage movement, such as with the shoulders rounded and the chest hunched forward, can cause or exacerbate rib pain.
5. Increase in breast size
The weight of the breasts increases as they grow, putting more strain on the rib cage and lower back. This not only changes your posture but also pulls your shoulder down, causing rib and back pain.
6. Rib pain during sleep
If your rib pain only happens when you wake up, you might want to think about how you sleep. When you sleep on your side, you put too much pressure and tension on your ribcage, arms, and shoulders. As a result, this could be the cause of rib pain during pregnancy while sleeping.
During pregnancy, your body will produce the hormone known as relaxin. Certain ligaments and muscles are able to become more “relaxed” in this way, which is helpful for labor. Some of the pain that some pregnant women feel in their bones may also be caused by the hormone relaxin. Part of the esophagus also relaxes because of relaxin. This is why pregnant women get heartburn so much more often. Some pregnant women experience heartburn that feels like rib pain.
8. Inflammation of the rib cartilage (costochondritis)
The inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone is known as costochondritis. Sometimes, as your baby grows, the cartilage at the end of each rib can become inflamed due to the expansion of the rib cage.
Related Reading: 6 Ways To Treat Neck Pain During Pregnancy
A UTI can cause pain in the ribs, but only if the infection has progressed to the kidneys. Pain and discomfort in the ribs, a burning sensation in the bladder, and an increase in the need to urinate are all symptoms of a urinary tract infection that has spread to the kidneys.
10. Medical conditions that cause rib pain during pregnancy
In most cases, the discomfort felt in the ribs during pregnancy is due to the physiological changes occurring in the body. Therefore, it is common to dismiss rib pain as “normal” discomfort during pregnancy. There may be a more serious underlying cause, however, for some women.
- Gallstones can cause rib pain4 . Gallstones are more common in pregnant women than in the general population because of increased estrogen levels5 and slower emptying of gall bladder and biliary ducts.
- Left rib pain could indicate a number of different medical issues, including a diaphragmatic hernia, a gastrointestinal disorder, or pneumonia
- Epigastric pain is a common symptom of preeclampsia but often gets overlooked. This type of pain typically manifests in the right upper quadrant beneath the ribs and may resemble heartburn. For some women, however, the pain is significantly worse, even “stabbing.”
Signs Of Rib Pain During Pregnancy
Rib cage pain can be sharp, dull, or achy, and it is most commonly felt below the chest or above the navel on either side. Rib pain aggravates if you slouch, bend over, or sit for long periods of time. Coughing, deep breathing, laughing, and sneezing can all hurt a pregnant woman.
Related Reading: 9 Common Pregnancy Aches and Pains With Remedies
How To Cope With Rib Pain During Pregnancy?
Treatment for rib pain is dependent on the underlying cause. Antibiotics, for example, are commonly used to treat urinary tract infections that cause rib pain. In cases where gallstones are the problem, surgery to remove them may be required after giving birth.
Pregnant women can take additional measures, such as those listed below, to alleviate their rib pain.
1. Practice good posture
Consider your posture. Keep your posture correct, and get up and move around more often. Avoid slouching. Keep your back straight. Leaning forward aggravates the rib pain. So, keep your back straight and your shoulders back. Weight is distributed more evenly, which is a welcome relief for women with heavy breasts.
If you stretch your back, you can make more room in your stomach and reduce the pressure on your rib cage and lower back. If you practice sitting up straight, you’ll open up your rib cage and make more room for your developing child. Additionally, avoid sitting for too long if possible. If you have to sit for long periods of time, make sure to get up and move around every once in a while.
2. You should avoid wearing anything tight
Try to stay away from anything too snug, as this can cause additional stress on your ribs and make the pain worse. Ditch those tight jeans; put on loose, breathable clothing. Rather than straining to fit into your pre-pregnancy wardrobe, you may want to consider purchasing some maternity clothes that are more roomy and comfortable.
In addition, think about purchasing a nursing or maternity bra. Also, it’s important to find a maternity bra that fits well, gives good support, and is comfortable so that the rib cage doesn’t get too much pressure.
3. Warm and cold compress
To relieve rib pain, elevate the hand above the heart and place an ice bag on the affected rib. Several pregnant women may find relief from rib pain by applying warm compresses. Apply a half-filled hot water bottle to the sore spot. Pregnancy bumps should be avoided while doing this.
A warm shower will also help to relax and calm the tense muscles. Soreness in the ribs is temporarily alleviated by this.
There are some effective stretches for rib pain during pregnancy that can help to deal with rib pain. To alleviate rib pain and increase flexibility, try doing some roll-outs on an extra-large exercise ball on your back. Gentle stretching and yoga can help strengthen the muscles and alleviate rib pain.
Related Reading: 21 Natural Ways To Fight Pregnancy Fatigue
5. Try a chiropractor
The stress of pregnancy can cause your body to shift, and working with a chiropractor can help keep your skeleton in alignment. A chiropractic adjustment can relieve pressure on your rib cage by encouraging your baby to drop into a more comfortable position for you.
When To Go To The Doctor?
Mild rib pain is common during pregnancy and usually subsides after delivery. But if you suddenly develop severe rib or abdominal pain, you should get medical attention. They should rule out the possibility of any other serious medical conditions.
If any of the following symptoms persist, medical attention is warranted.
- Pain in the upper abdomen, typically under the ribs, is the primary symptom of both acute and chronic pancreatitis. It usually gets worse within minutes of eating or drinking, especially fatty foods
- Women are more likely to develop HELLP syndrome while pregnant. Symptoms include sharp, stabbing pain on the right side of the rib cage and the upper right abdomen. Thus acute right-side rib pain in pregnancy is something that one should not ignore. In severe cases, HELLP can be fatal
- You may have a rib fracture caused by your long bouts of coughing during pregnancy, which would explain the sudden onset and severe pain you’re experiencing
Ways To Prevent Rib Pain During Pregnancy
When you’re in pain in your ribs, it’s hard to take a deep breath, which can make you feel short of breath. As per our expert obstetrician & gynaecologist Dr Ankita Patel Tayal, preventing rib pain during pregnancy is possible (to some extent) with the help of a few simple strategies.
- Pay attention to your posture. Rib pain is less likely to occur if you sit up straight, head up, and shoulders back. Additionally, it eases neck and upper back pain.
- Put on a bra that fits well and gives you support, but skip the underwire. It might be worthwhile to spend money on a nursing bra that you can use after the baby is born.
- Posture, muscle strength, and flexibility are all boosted by regular yoga and pilates practice during pregnancy
- Doing deep breathing exercises before bedtime and throughout the day could be beneficial.
- To help you relax and fall asleep, try stacking a few pillows on the bed.
- Avoid excessive weight gain and eating a high fat diet which can cause gall stones to develop.
It’s common to experience some rib-related aches and pains while pregnant. These symptoms can be annoyances that are severe or barely bothersome. These are common and usually not anything to worry about. Please consult your physician before taking any pain reliever for rib pain during pregnancy.
Even if you think your symptoms are normal for pregnancy, it’s important to talk to your doctor about them anyway. Dr Ankita Patel Tayal advises pregnant women to get a physical checkup done to rule out any possible complications. Discuss the possibility of seeing a chiropractor or acupuncturist recommended by your doctor.
Pain in the ribs during pregnancy is often localized to one area of the chest, either under the breast or to the side. The pain may radiate to your back occasionally. Usually, it starts between weeks 27 and the start of the third trimester (weeks 28-40).
Having sore ribs during pregnancy is not harmful to either the mother or the fetus. After the baby is born, the pain and discomfort will vanish on its own.
Stretching their arms above their heads or lengthening their back can help pregnant women with rib pain. It might give your baby more space so that less of their kicks will hit your ribs. Another option is to stand up and move your hips in a circular motion.
Pregnant women need close medical supervision when taking any medication. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t take a lot of painkillers or NSAIDs if you’re expecting a child. If you take an anti-inflammatory pain reliever like ibuprofen during the first or third trimester of your pregnancy, your unborn child is at increased risk for serious side effects.