Rib Pain During Pregnancy: What You Can Do About It

Image: iStock


Pregnancy changes your body in ways you have not experienced before. While some changes are regular and don’t bother you, some like rib pain can affect your daily routine. Rib pain may not have any side effects, but the location of the pain could cause anxiety.

But there is no reason to worry. MomJunction tells you all about rib pain during pregnancy, its causes, and management.

How Does Pregnancy Rib Pain Feel Like?

Pregnancy rib pain feels like your ribs are displaced or diverged. Though nothing of this sort happens, the region feels tender to touch, and you will experience pain when sitting, slouching, or bending forward.

You will also experience pain while coughing, breathing deeply, laughing, or sneezing. The pain can appear at different times, and the intensity also varies from tolerable to unbearable.

Usually, sore ribs do not cause any harm to the mother or the fetus. The pain and discomfort will disappear automatically after the baby’s birth.

When Do You Feel The Rib Pain During Pregnancy?

In the last few weeks of pregnancy, when the baby is almost ready, you may feel like there is no room left in the upper abdomen. As the uterus grows and compresses the internal organs, you will experience pain in the ribs.

The pain may occur at the end of the second trimester and during the third trimester until the baby starts to descend into the pelvic region towards the due date (1).

What Causes Rib Pain During Pregnancy?

Here is why you may experience pain in the ribs when you are pregnant.

  1. The growing baby and uterus: As the baby grows, the uterus expands, taking more room in the womb. It comes to a stage where all the organs are pushed towards the ribs, building pressure in the muscles and making breathing difficult (1). Those with bigger babies and shorter waists are more likely to experience rib pain during pregnancy.
  1. The baby’s movements and intrauterine position: The position and movement of the baby can put constant pressure on the ribs, creating discomfort and pain in the ribs. The frequency of the movements increases each day, getting harder and stronger (2). Also, the breech position of the fetus will put additional pressure on the rib cage, causing pain (3).
  1. Increasing breast size: As the breasts grow, their increasing weight puts more pressure on the rib cage and lower back. This not only alters your posture but also draws your shoulder down, causing pain in the ribs and back (4).
  1. Urinary tract infections: Rib pain is one of the side effects of UTI, but only if the infection has spread up to the kidneys. As the urinary infection spreads towards the kidneys, it can cause a burning sensation and increase the frequency of urination, in addition to pain and discomfort in the ribs (5).
  1. Hormonal changes: Relaxin and progesterone hormones affect all the muscles, ligaments, and joints of the pelvic region and spine. This, therefore, leads to a rib cage and back pain due to the loosening of the muscles and ligaments that support ribs (6).

Pregnancy-related changes are the usual causes of rib pain during pregnancy. However, in some cases, medical conditions could also be a reason for the pain.

Medical Conditions That Could Cause Rib Pain

  • Pain under the right rib can be a sign of liver diseases, gallbladder inflammation, and right-sided pneumonia.
  • Pain arising on the left rib can be a sign of ulcers, gastritis, gastrointestinal tract disorders, left-sided pneumonia, and diaphragmatic hernia.

Regardless of what is causing it, rib pain should not be ignored. Talk to your doctor to be sure it is harmless.

When To Call The Doctor?

You could experience rib pain, usually in the later stages of pregnancy. Contact your doctor if you have rib pain and ensure that the medical conditions are eliminated through thorough examination and investigation where required.

Rib pain during pregnancy usually disappears after the uterus drops in the last weeks of pregnancy. As you near the due date, the space in the abdomen region increases, and the pressure under the ribs reduces.

Meanwhile, you can follow a few tips to get some relief from the pain.

What Can You Do To Help Relieve Rib Pain During Pregnancy?

Though there is no cure for this pain, you can take a few measures for temporary relief.

  1. Wear loose-fitting clothes: Avoid tight-fitting clothes as they add pressure and aggravate the rib pain. Wear loose clothing that is comfortable and easier to breathe in. Also, get a maternity bra or a nursing bra that can take the pressure off the rib cage.
  1. Lean back: Rib pain worsens when you lean forward. So, try to maintain your posture by leaning backward. This also relieves pressure from the heavy breasts. Stretching back expands the space in the belly and eases the strain on the muscles of the rib cage and lower back.
  1. Use pillows for support: Use pillows to prop yourself up beneath the bump to take off the strain from the rib muscles. It relieves most of the soreness and pressure from the body.
  1. Take short breaks: Do not remain in the same sitting or standing position for too long. Move around, take short walks, or indulge in mild exercise.
  1. Get a massage: Ask your partner to massage on the sides and rib region to help relieve muscle stress and tension.
  1. Warm water bath: Taking a warm shower will soothe and relax the painful muscles. It provides short-term relief from rib soreness.
  1. Use support aids: There is a wide range of supportive aids such as rib braces, body pillows, maternity belts, lumbar seat pillows, and belly bras to support the lower body. They also relieve rib cage pain.
  1. Exercise: Indulge in light exercises such as yoga and swimming.

You may experience mild rib flares during pregnancy, no matter how careful you are. But if the pain is severe or sudden, you should check with the doctor. They will determine the cause and suggest the appropriate treatment. Do not take any pain medication without consulting your doctor, engage in extreme physical activity, or lay pressure on the tummy.

Have you experienced rib pain during pregnancy? Tell us how you dealt with it, in the comments section below.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Tara Lee and Mary Attwood; Pregnancy Health Yoga: Your Essential Guide for Bump, Birth and Beyond
2. Glade B. Curtis and Judith Schuler; Your Pregnancy Week by Week
3. Bonnie Urquhart Gruenberg; Birth Emergency Skills Training: Manual for Out-of-hospital Midwives
4. Denise Tiran; Have A Happy Pregnancy: Teach Yourself
5. Urinary Tract Infections; The National Library of Medicine
6. Mary Ellen Zator Estes; Health Assessment and Physical Examination

The following two tabs change content below.

Dr. Sangeeta Agrawal

Dr. Sangeeta Agrawal worked in Royal London, St. Bartholomew’s, North Middlesex and Barnet General hospitals in London. Currently, she runs her own clinic in Mumbai. She is also attached to Bhatia Hospital, Breach Candy Hospital, Wockhardt Hospital, and Global Hospital. Her areas of expertise include obstetrics and gynecology, involving teenage care, antenatal, intrapartum, post-natal care, painless labor, fertility control, menopause... more

Rebecca Malachi

Rebecca is a pregnancy writer and editor with a passion for delivering research-based and engaging content in areas of fertility, pregnancy, birth, and post-pregnancy. She has been into health and wellness writing since 2010. She received her graduate degree in Biotechnology and Genetics from Loyola Academy, Osmania University and obtained a certification in ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle in Pregnancy’ from Ludwig... more