5 Quick Ways to Reduce That Pesky Rib Pain During Pregnancy

Updated on January 20, 2019
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Penniless has been an online writer for over seven years. She specializes in writing about pregnancy related medical issues.

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If you're like me, you're somewhere in that grand ole late second trimester/early third trimester range of your pregnancy where you're starting to feel aches and pains you never dreamed were possible. Many people experience astonishing aches and pains during pregnancy. Since you can't really pop pain pills or anti-inflammatories like you could before you were pregnant—and most of these pains wouldn't be helped even if you could—you've probably just started to accept the discomfort as an unavoidable part of being a baby-making machine.

That said, you've got to draw the line somewhere. The one pain I really can't ignore is the sharp pain I've been feeling right below my breast, seemingly from my ribs. I was able to ignore it for a few weeks before it got too bad, but after awhile I caved and started looking for help. This is what I found.

Ways to Reduce Rib Pain During Pregnancy

  1. Don't wear tight clothes.
  2. Move like a pregnant lady.
  3. Use body pillows and cushions.
  4. Get a new bra (and one for sleeping).
  5. Learn to be laid-back.

1. No Tight Clothes

As your body is changing, it's a daily battle to find clothes that both fit and make you feel like you're still just as beautiful as you were before (believe me, you are). Some days you try to wriggle your way into an old favorite top and others you just give up and slap on some sweats. By wearing those old shirts, you're just adding to the pressure your ribs are feeling from everything else. Give yourself a break! Rule #1 will relieve you of this pressure. It might be time to invest in some maternity wear that's comfortable and actually lets you breathe.

Avoid inactivity or sitting for too long which can tighten up rib and spine muscles.

— Cale Parkyn, Physical Therapist , (Regenerate Physiotherapy Edmonton)

2. Move Like a Pregnant Lady

Just like it might be time to start dressing like a pregnant woman, now is the time to start moving like one, too. (Don't worry—you can go back to your old clothes and slouchy ways soon. But, for now, it's time to get serious.)

  • Stop slouching. If you sit up straight and don't hunch over, you'll lift your ribcage up and create more room for the growing baby.
  • Don't sit for too long. If you must sit, get up often and go for a walk or stretch. Lift your arms up over your head and lean back in your chair. Remember to roll your shoulders up and back.
  • If you must sit, experiment with positions. You'll find that certain angles push the fundus up higher than others. Your favorite chair might not be your favorite anymore, so push it aside and find another that accommodates your new shape for the next several months.

3. Body Pillows and Cushions

Why suffer when all you need is a little support? You need to prop yourself up. Grab some pillows and stuff them wherever you need them. It might be a good idea to grab a body pillow if you don't already have one. There are plenty out there on the market specifically for pregnant women, but you can probably get by with a regular one as long as it's long enough for you to rest your breasts and belly on it. Remember, it should still be long enough to fit between your legs, as well (you've gotta help that back, too).

Light exercising such as walking and gentle stretches are best [for managing rib pain]. Try raising the arms and feel the stretch through the middle of the back. Ensure that you are comfortable and set up with supportive pillows when lying down.

— Cale Parkyn, Physical Therapist , (Regenerate Physiotherapy Edmonton)
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4. Get a New Bra (and One for Sleeping)

I kept hearing that your breasts were the first thing to change during pregnancy, and that way before they were forking out money for maternity clothes, other pregnant women were running to the store to grab bigger bras. I hadn't given two thoughts about my bras. Since they still seemed to fit, I just kept on putting on those Victoria's Secret ones I had bought just before I found out I was pregnant.

Wrong move. I finally caved in and got sized. I was a 36 B before and now, I'm 38 D! No wonder my ribs ached, my bra was doing nothing to help. The moral of the story is to just let them measure you. If you're weirded-out by the idea like I was, it'll be over in a second, and believe me, the relief is worth it.

A few other things to think about when getting your new bra:

  • Find one with plenty of support, no underwire (again, added pressure).
  • Consider one of the nursing bras (you'll need it soon enough).

While I was there they were having a sale, so I went ahead and got two sleeper bras just out of curiosity. I was skeptical about whether or not they'd actually help, but I can tell you they do. They're light enough that you can sleep comfortably, but they give just enough support to help you move.

5. Learn to Be Laid-Back

Yes, there are things you can do to make yourself more comfortable, but the only way to get rid of this pain is by giving birth. So, in the meantime, give yourself a break.

If you're used to sitting up straight or leaning forward all of the time, try to break yourself of that habit. All you're doing is scrunching yourself up and forcing your body to conform to a much smaller space than it needs to (plus it puts all your breast weight on one spot rather than letting it spread out). Whenever you have the option to lean back, go ahead and do so. Hell, go crazy and add some pillows where you need them. Why not get a heart-shaped box of chocolates, while you're at it? And how about a foot rub?

These are just ways I've personally gotten over the pain (for the most part). So, if you have any suggestions, go ahead and leave them below. I hope these suggestions help!

Why Are You Feeling This Pain?

Well, once you've ruled out any gallbladder issues, there are only a couple other things that may be causing your pain: the baby growing inside you and your suddenly voluptuous chest.

First of all, you might be enjoying those few extra cup sizes, but think of how much added weight they've put on your ribs in such a sort period of time. That, along with the fact that your uterus is growing daily and adding pressure from inside is enough to make any rib cry uncle. The fundus (the top of your uterus) is pushing up, applying new pressure from the inside, not to mention the baby's occasional well-aimed kick or punch. Your ribs are shifting and the muscles in between your ribs is stretching to make room for the little one. Ouch. The fundus reaches its peak at around 36 weeks, at which point the baby drops down to the pelvic cavity to get ready for birth. That will give relief for the rib pain, but the added pressure of your breasts will still weigh on you.

Common Aches and Pains During Pregnancy

Problem
Description
Headaches
Feeling a squeezing pain or a steady dull ache on both sides of your head could signal a tension headache.
Heartburn
Heartburn is caused by the hormonal and physical changes that happen in your body during pregnancy.
Leg cramps
They could be from your additional pregnancy weight and pressure from your growing uterus.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Extra fluid and swelling during pregnancy can also cause these symptoms.
Round ligament pain
Round ligament pain is a brief, sharp, stabbing pain or a longer-lasting dull ache that you may feel in your lower belly or groin, starting in the second trimester.

How Do You Stop Pregnancy Cramps?

When you're pregnant, you’ll be monitoring each and every possible change your body goes through. Implantation begins many of these changes. Implantation is defined as the moment the fertilized egg attaches to the uterus’s wall at the very beginning of a pregnancy. When the fertilized egg or embryo attaches itself to your womb, light cramping and spotting often happen. These cramps cause pain, but there are ways for you to manage the discomfort.

How to Prevent and Manage Pregnancy Cramps

  1. Try to sit, lie down or change positions.
  2. Soak in a warm bath.
  3. Try doing relaxation exercises.
  4. Place a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel on the ache.
  5. Make sure you get plenty of fluids.

Common Pains by Trimester

During pregnancy, your body undergoes many changes as it adapts to the growing life inside of you. You gain weight as your body grows to accommodate your new baby. While this is natural and necessary, it can cause some discomfort.

Trimester 1

Breast tenderness: This is one of the most common symptoms of pregnancy. It usually starts around week 4 to week 7 and lasts through the first trimester. Your breasts will continue to change throughout your pregnancy and, eventually, they will produce colostrum–the precursor to breast milk.

Solutions

  • Wear a more supportive bra.
  • Opt for loose-fitting clothes.
  • Try a cold compress.
  • Take warm showers.

Trimester 2

Bleeding gums: About half of pregnant women develop swollen, tender gums. Hormone changes are sending more blood to your gums. This makes them more sensitive and causes them to bleed more easily. Your gums should go back to normal after your baby is born.

Solutions

  • Use a softer toothbrush and be gentle when you floss
  • Eat a healthy diet that benefits your immune system.
  • Find ways to relax.
  • Due mild exercises that benefit your cardiovascular system.

Trimester 3

Abdominal pain: Stomach pain during the third trimester can include gas, constipation, and Braxton-Hicks contractions (false labor). These can cause some abdominal discomfort, but they shouldn’t cause excessive amounts of pain.

Solution:

  • Rest or take a warm bath or shower.
  • Regular exercise will strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles. However, avoid exercises while lying on your back for more than a few minutes at a time after the first trimester. This may decrease blood flow to your developing baby.

Products to Manage Pain During Pregnancy

Product
Description
Average Price
Maternity support belt
An abdominal support pad tucks under the belly and lifts up. Support belts relieve pain in the back, legs, and abdomen.
$20
Maternity bra
These bras eliminate uncomfortable bounce in growing or swollen breasts.
$20
Maternity shoes
Flat maternity shoes are easy to wear and ultra-comfortable.
$50
Head massager
These are massagers designed to reduce stress and tension on the scalp.
Depends on whether you buy an electric massager or not.
Hot and Cold Heat Pack
Packs can be used to reduce swelling and numb aches and pains.
$5

Things to Avoid During Pregnancy

Avoid: High-Mercury Fish

Why: Mercury is highly toxic. It has no known safe level of exposure and is most commonly found in polluted water. In higher amounts, it can be toxic to your nervous system, immune system, and kidneys. It may also cause serious developmental problems in young children.

Avoid: Caffeine

Why: Caffeine is absorbed very quickly. It passes easily into the placenta and fetus. High caffeine intake during pregnancy has been shown to restrict fetal growth and increase the risk of low birth weight at delivery.

Avoid: Unpasteurized Milk, Cheese, and Fruit Juice

Why: Raw milk and unpasteurized cheese can contain an array of harmful bacteria, including Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter. Unpasteurized juice is also prone to bacterial contamination.

Avoid: Alcohol

Why: Pregnant women are advised to completely avoid drinking alcohol. It increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Even small amounts can negatively impact your baby's brain development.

Avoid: Processed Junk Foods

Why: Many pregnant women need increased amounts of many essential nutrients, including protein, folate, and iron. Unfortunately, processed foods tend to lack these essential nutrients.

How Long Does It Take Your Uterus to Recover After Giving Birth?

Two weeks after giving birth, your uterus will have shrunk to about 11 ounces. After four weeks, it will be around the same size it was before you gave birth. In the end, it will probably take a total of four weeks for your postpartum uterus to return to normal.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Heather 

        13 months ago

        Take a warm bath and drink a cup of hot tea. It works when you need to just take a few min. For you and not the world around you.

      • profile image

        Philile 

        20 months ago

        I have asharppain on my righribs Ami pregnant

      • profile image

        Sade 

        2 years ago

        Ooomg i had this pain under my left rib cage. When i went to the doc they kept telling me it was my baby but the pain stayed in one place and never moved. When i soaked in a hot bath or warm shower it would feel great. Even when i put ice or a cold compress it would feel good but after dealing for a few weeks i finally figured out that it was my bra!!! It wasnt even on the bra-line like you would expect it to be. I never changed my bras i mean, i got a few bigger sizes but i put on a sports bra one day and after a few minutes instant relief !!! I was kinda upset that after all of that pain it took me so long to realize it was something as simple as a bra. But like i said it was below my ribcage not on the bra-line so.....good luck!!!

      • profile image

        fat 

        3 years ago

        Iam 15 weeks pregnant now..I feel so much pain in my right side rib below the chest area..some times its like pinching pain ..even i cant sleep on my right side sometimes..This pain started in my 13week only..sometimes it comes and somedays it not..Firstly i thought it was a gastric pain ..please any one help me why dis pain comes and suggest me any remedies..

      • profile image

        Jennifer 

        3 years ago

        Am thirteen weeks i also feeling same and it hurts

      • profile image

        charmaine connell 

        3 years ago

        Iam 6 months pregnant now I feel some serious pain under my left ribs.especially at nights while I am sleeping. I wake up with terrible pain. It even get worst when iam getting up.I think I am now going to try sleeping with an ice pack underneath my rib.will let you know what happen next

      • profile image

        Isabel 

        4 years ago

        I'm only 18 weeks and I'm having terrible pains under my right side rib cage. Does anyone know how to get rid of the pain? it just started today. It woke me up around 1 am, it hurts to the point that I can't even lay on my right side.

      • profile image

        isabel 

        4 years ago

        I'm only 18 weeks and I'm having terrible pains under my right side rib cage. Does anyone know how to get rid of the pain? it just started today. It woke me up around 1 am, it hurts to the point that I can't even lay on my right side.

      • profile image

        Natasha 

        4 years ago

        I just started getting these horrendous pains I am 26 weeks. I mostly get them at night, the pain wakes me up usually around 3am when I am in deep sleep. It makes me sweat tremendously. We kind of found a way to ease some pain. My husband will rub my back and grab an ice cold cloth put it on my head and neck. And jump into a cold bath when I have the strength to get up. And than make the bath a little warmer. Hopefully this helps some pregnant ladies out there!

      • profile image

        tavitsre 

        4 years ago

        Not a good idea to spend too much time leaning back if you want the baby to be in a good position though

      • profile image

        Roza L 

        4 years ago

        I had this pain in my first pregnancy and other than not sitting down for long, I could not do anything to help it. Even a physiotherapist could not come up with anything.

        Luckily in my second pregnancy, I worked out that what helped a lot was, when sitting down (which is when I had the problem) to press my back against something sticking out from the back of the chair. On my commute to work on the train I would fold my jacket up and lean against it or, at work, I would use a wobble cushion (google it) to lean back against.

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