Pregnancy comes with many foreign feelings and sensations, some of which can be — to be frank — a pain in the ass (you may even have a literal pain in your ass at some point). Among those new and uncomfortable experiences? Rib pain during pregnancy. And while this common issue often presents in the third trimester, or from 28 weeks pregnant on, this pesky pain can start earlier. Before you panic, breathe and hear this: It’s very common and often nothing to worry about. But you need more details; we get it.
So, we pulled together a little explainer on everything you need to know about rib pain during pregnancy. For example, no, it is not a sign of early pregnancy (but heavy boobs and frequent trips to the bathroom are). Keep reading for intel on what causes it, how to relieve it, and when to call your obstetrician or health care provider.
What causes rib pain during pregnancy?
It goes without saying that your body undergoes myriad changes during pregnancy. Some of those, like your growing belly, are visible. Some, though, take place below the surface, outside of the scope of your vision. And some of those could be the reason for that rib pain. This may include:
Pregnancy hormones like progesterone and relaxin work to loosen up your muscles and ligaments because, well, that comes in handy during labor and delivery. However, that loosening can also lead to an uncomfortable aching and soreness in your ribs and other areas.
Your Growing Baby
As the baby gets bigger, so does your uterus. Accordingly, they take up more space. In the late second and third trimester, you could start to feel as they press against your ribs.
Round Ligament Pain
A pair of fibrous tissue cords connecting the front of the uterus to the groin, round ligaments may experience pressure as the uterus grows. When that happens, you could feel pain around your ribs (as well as your back and pelvis).
Don’t get us wrong; it’s so much fun to see the baby move around in your belly and feel their little acrobatics. Having said that, it is not very much fun when baby kicks you right in the ribs. Yowch.
With baby putting so much pressure on your stomach, you may suffer from pregnancy heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion — all of which may feel like a burning sensation in your chest and ribs.
Did you realize that pregnancy puts you at a higher risk for gallstone disease? It’s true. You can blame it on the estrogen spike and the fact that your gallbladder and biliary ducts empty slower. Because those ducts are sluggish, it can lead to biliary “sludge” and even gallstones. And while they’re sometimes symptomless, gallstones can be quite painful.
Urinary Tract Infection
Just as pregnant women are at an increased risk for gallstones, their risk level is similarly higher for urinary tract infections (UTIs). If left untreated, this can cause kidney pain which — you guessed it — can feel like rib pain.
Oh, the sheer hell that is pregnancy constipation. If you know, you know. If you don’t know, you may soon find out in the form of abdominal pain brought on by delayed bowel movements. This pain (caused by trapped gas) can be particularly uncomfortable around the ribs.
Your Changing Body
Listen, your body is doing work. Hard work. Work that involves creating and carrying a human being. So, don’t be too upset when that burgeoning belly puts a strain on your abdominal muscles which, in turn, puts pressure on your rib muscles. Same for your noticeably bigger boobs.
Can a baby break your ribs during pregnancy?
The short answer is yes. You have life growing inside of you, which is an amazing and life-changing experience — but it’s far from easy. Your baby is getting bigger and as your uterus expands, your little peanut is taking over and becoming a Costco size jar of peanut butter. Your womb will make room. However, if you have a shorter waist and a big baby, you are more likely to experience rib fractures during your pregnancy. As your baby grows, they are pushing your organs towards your ribs, which does add pressure. Too much could lead to breakage, although it is rare.
Are there other causes that are of concern?
You probably don’t have anything to worry about, as rib pain during pregnancy is pretty routine. But it’s always a good idea to give your health care provider a call at any point in your pregnancy if you feel pain that alarms you. Although rare, rib pain could signal something more serious. Pain in the upper right abdomen area, for instance, could point toward a dangerous condition like preeclampsia or liver issues. Other possible causes could include:
- Pulled muscle
- Lung issue
- Injured rib
- Blood clot
- Budd-Chiari syndrome
- Tumor and/or cancer (very rare, so do not WebMD yourself into a frenzy)
What is HELLP syndrome?
Your rib pain could also be a sign of HELLP, which is related to preeclampsia. HELLP is an acronym for the issues associated with the disease.
H stands for hemolysis, which is when your red blood cells breakdown. This can lead to anemia, or your blood not having enough oxygen to carry to the rest of your body.
EL stands for elevated liver enzymes. When this happens, your liver isn’t working the way it should. So, the broken liver cells create imbalanced amounts of enzymes in your blood.
LP stands for low platelet count. Platelets help your blood with clotting. When they’re low, you run the risk of excessively bleeding.
HELLP, which affects the liver and blood, usually occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy.
How do you ease rib pain during pregnancy?
If rib pain is driving you up the wall, try these remedies for a bit of relief. Of course, you should always run any changes or potential treatments by your doctor for the green light.
- Gentle exercise
- Prenatal chiropractic care
- A pregnancy belly band
- Extra pillows at night
- Stretching and yoga
- Deep breathing exercises
- A supportive bra and loose, comfortable clothing
- Mindful posture
If at any point your pain becomes severe and/or doesn’t improve, seek medical help immediately.
What is a costochondritis pregnancy?
Rib pain is so annoying and can be caused by much more than a big baby. When you’re pregnant, your rib cage expands to accommodate the child inside of you, but sometimes it can lead to costochondritis. Costochondritis is when your upper ribs combine with the cartilage that holds them to your breastbone. This can cause chest pain.
Pregnant women usually feel this pain in their lower ribs. A few signs you may have this condition include sharp pain near your breastbone and ribs, usually on the left side. When you breathe deeply or cough, this can also increase the pain. Tenderness in the ribs is common, so to help relieve some of this discomfort, put an icepack on the sore areas.
How do I get my baby to stop kicking my ribs?
When you’re pregnant, your body goes through a lot, and your baby never gets the message. So, if your nugget is kicking you in the ribs, there are a few ways to make him (or her) play nice.
- As simple as it may sound, try eating smaller meals. Sure, a full stomach makes you and baby happy, but it pushes your uterus against your ribcage, which causes more discomfort.
- Get your baby to move by pushing below your ribs. It also helps to sleep on the side that hurts.
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