Rib pain during pregnancy is a common pregnancy complaint that can be really uncomfortable for some pregnant women.
It usually occurs in the third trimester, although for some women it can begin even earlier.
The sensation can range from mild discomfort to strong pain. To understand what causes rib pain and to get relief, keep reading.
Rib pain during pregnancy
Pressure from the top of your growing uterus is to blame for pregnancy rib pain. It might be accompanied by round ligament pain. This abdominal pain shouldn’t be severe pain or chest pain.
Contact your health care provider immediately if you’re concerned about the severity or area of pain you’re experiencing.
If your baby is in a breech position (head up, bum down), the pressure from the head being wedged underneath your lower ribs might be the cause of your discomfort.
Sore ribs are usually felt on the side of the baby’s position and just below the breasts, where the rib muscles are stretched.
You’ll probably find that your ribs are more painful when sitting and even more so when you are leaning forward.
The fundus (the top of your uterus) is at its highest at around 36 weeks of pregnancy, when it reaches just below the breastbone.
Around 36 weeks, your baby might drop into your pelvic cavity, in preparation for birth. This usually provides some much appreciated relief.
Find out more in this article: 5 Common Side Effects During Pregnancy.
Top 9 tips for rib pain during pregnancy
Here are 9 tips that might help if you’re experiencing rib pain during pregnancy:
#1. Make yourself comfortable
This one is at the top of the list as it is a ‘biggie’. Nothing is worse than feeling constricted by tight clothes, especially in the summer.
To relieve pain it might help if you:
- Wear loose clothing. Loose-fitting clothes give you room to move without restriction, especially around your rib cage
- Avoid excess weight gain
- Avoid caffeine
- Use pregnancy body pillows
- Wear a supportive bra.
- 5 Reasons Why Maternity Clothes Shopping Sucks
- Pregnancy Pillow | 5 Best, Most Comfy Pillows For 2021.
#2. Support yourself with cushions when lying down
Sleeping with pregnancy pillows is a must in pregnancy. We recommend you sleep on your left side to assist with circulation and blood flow for yourself and your baby.
For more information, you might like to read Sleeping Positions In Pregnancy – What You Need To Know.
#3. Sit up straight and don’t hunch over
As you can imagine, sitting hunched over will push your baby into your ribs even more. To create more room, while also supporting your back, sit up nice and straight with good posture. This will also create more space and assist with breathing.
#4. Avoid sitting down for too long
It is advised to get up and stretch or take a short walk every two hours (or more often, if it helps). Sitting for too long will restrict your circulation, so having a stretch will expand the ribcage, allowing you to breathe, and also increase circulation. When sitting down, try to put your feet up as this will help to reduce puffiness.
#5. Heat packs or cold packs
Some women like hot packs for the relief of rib pain; others prefer cold packs. At the end of the day, do whatever works for you.
Be mindful not to make the hot pack too hot as this will cause a skin burn. Just place the pack wherever it is most comfortable, where you feel most pain and where it provides the most relief in the rib area.
#6. A nice hot shower to help pregnancy rib pain
Similar to the heat pack, a hot shower will relax the muscles and make deep breathing exercises easier. Be sensible with this one – the water shouldn’t be too hot.
#7. Exercises that help you with rib pain in pregnancy
Exercise is always beneficial and even more so in pregnancy. Exercise produces those feel-good hormones and will help with rib pain as well as with your labor and birth journey.
You might be interested in BellyBelly’s article: Exercise And Pregnancy – Can I Exercise In Pregnancy?
Some of the recommended exercises are:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Gentle exercise on an exercise ball
- Wall slides.
#8. Cut out foods that cause inflammation in pregnancy
Reducing sugar and grains – the two main foods that can make you feel increased inflammation in pregnancy – will certainly help reduce the rib pain.
Cutting down on inflammatory foods will also reduce your risk of being diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
Here is a really effective and gentle stretch to give you relief from rib pain during pregnancy, as shared by midwife, Alan Rooney:
‘Stand facing a wall. With your feet 40 cm (16 inches) from the wall, cross your arms in front of your face. Then lean your crossed arms on the wall. Slide your arms up the wall and stretch yourself up as far as possible. Hold the position for as long as comfortable.
‘During this exercise, the diaphragm and rib cage are lifted up off the uterus, providing some relief. This stretch really does provide effective, temporary relief – especially if the pain is caused by a breech baby’s hard little head wedged under your ribs’.
It’s also a great idea to visit your complementary health practitioner, if you haven’t done this already.
Depending on which therapy you prefer, an osteopath, acupuncturist or chiropractor can help ease rib pain during pregnancy.
Can I take pain killers to relieve rib pain during pregnancy?
Although there’s not much you can do to stop a growing baby and uterus, there are some things you can do to get some temporary relief from rib pain.
The suggestions below will not cure the pain, but might help you get the relief you need until baby drops down lower.
It’s important to know that while you are pregnant, you can’t take much in the way of pain medication or anti-inflammatory medications.
With regard to anti-inflammatory pain medication like ibuprofen, for example, the biggest risks to your baby, including some that are very serious, are in the first and third trimester.
For unbearable pain, see your doctor or midwife about taking paracetamol (acetaminophen) or other medications. The main side effect is delayed bowel movements with some constipation.
Pharmacists can also be a great resource for advice about what you can take, as they usually have the most up to date drug information.
Unless you have professional advice, avoid all medicines whenever possible.
See our article Pain Medication During Pregnancy – What Can You Take? for more information.
Rib pain pregnancy first trimester
Rib cage pain for pregnant women can occur due to the loosening and relaxing of the round ligaments caused by the hormones relaxin and progesterone, which are released in early pregnancy.
Rib cage pain might start at the end of the first trimester as your baby and your uterus grow, creating more pressure.
Check out Pregnancy Week By Week – The First Trimester for more information.
Pregnancy rib pain in the second trimester
In the second trimester, as baby continues to grow and the round ligaments stretch, this can cause you some pain around the lower rib area.
As discussed below, if you have a sharp or stabbing pain in your mid sternum, be aware of the signs of preeclampsia.
Rib pain during third trimester
This will feel much the same as in the second trimester; however, your baby is definitely running out of room.
The pressure is on in the last trimester as your uterus expands and the cartilage around your ribs loosens to accommodate your baby. You also produce a hormone called relaxin to assist with stretching in pregnancy.
Most women will find their breasts have grown and this adds to the lack of space around the rib cage. Rib pain might be more noticeable in your first pregnancy than your second.
For more information, read 10 Ways You Know You’re In Your Third Trimester.
Is rib pain in pregnancy preeclampsia?
If you have any sharp pain in the upper abdomen which you might confuse for acid reflux and which could be a central sternum pain, it must be investigated. Report it to your health care provider or midwife immediately.
These sharp pains, along with high blood pressure, swelling, blurred or starry vision, and headaches are signs of preeclampsia.
Untreated preeclampsia leads to the very serious HELLP syndrome, which can be fatal to some women.
Can anything stop rib pain during pregnancy?
Apart from all the tips that might relieve the pain, there’s only one magic pill that can take away the uncomfortable symptoms: giving birth.
Sorry to be a party pooper. But having personally suffered rib pain during pregnancy, I can tell you the only thing that completely fixed my uncomfortable ribs was the arrival of my new little human being.
As soon as my gorgeous girl was born, the pain completely disappeared.
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