It is quite common to feel aches and pain while pregnant, but it is also important to know when can they be considered normal or already something to be concerned about. In this case, let’s talk about rib pain during pregnancy, its possible causes, remedies, and when you should consider seeking medical attention.
Is Rib Pain During Pregnancy Normal?
Rib pain may be something bothering to pregnant women but in many cases, it is a normal part of pregnancy.
With regards to rib pain, the second trimester is when it will most likely be evident. During the second trimester, rapid growth and development of the fetus occurs. Many of the abdominal organs are pushed upwards to give way to the growing baby. Alongside, the abdominal muscles are stretched to accommodate the increased pressure within the abdominal cavity. This can lead to pain when you bend or stretch, indicating the limited range of motion while pregnant.
Rib pain during third trimester of pregnancy may also be common due to the increased movements of the unborn baby. During the third trimester, it is normal for the fetus to move upside down, with his head pointing downwards in preparation to delivery. This is also when you will feel more prominent movement and kicking of the baby. Since the baby’s feet is situated under the ribs, movement and kicking will result to muscle stretch in that area and may be a contributory factor to rib pain.
What Causes Rib Pain During Pregnancy?
Mild pain under the ribs may be common during pregnancy, however, pregnant women may experience rib pain in various degrees and locations. That is why it is essential to identify the type of rib pain, its location and characteristics so that you can easily describe it to your doctor.
It may also help to know a bit more about the possible causes of rib pain while pregnant, so that you’ll have an idea of whether it is still a normal part of your pregnancy or something that needs to be reported to your physician.
Below are some possible causes of rib pain during pregnancy:
During the second to third trimester, the growing baby can stretch out the muscles and bones under the breast area. Alongside, fetal movements, like kicking, may eventually push the underlying muscles towards its limits, and this may cause pain. Rib pain that is caused by the sudden movement of the baby is most likely temporary and manageable for the mom-to-be.
Heartburn is the burning sensation that is felt when the stomach acid goes up to the throat. Heartburn is common among pregnant women because their body produces a hormone called relaxin. As the name suggests, this hormone relaxes the muscles of the body, including the esophageal sphincter that is supposed to prevent the stomach contents from moving back up to the esophagus. Alongside, relaxin may produce pain in some areas of the body, including pelvic pain and pain under right rib cage during early pregnancy.
Round ligament pain
The round ligament is one of the strong bands of tissues that support the growth of the uterus in relation to pregnancy. This ligament connects the uterus to the muscles of your groin. As the uterus expands due to pregnancy, the ligament will also stretch to support the growth. This makes the round ligament more vulnerable to strain.
That is why when pregnant women suddenly move or change their position too quickly, they may feel a sharp, jabbing pain along the belly and under the ribs, usually on the right side of the body. This is called the round ligament pain which is often due to the sudden movement that strained the ligaments on the uterine area.
Constipation and bloating
The relaxed digestive system during pregnancy can lead to constipation and bloating. Though these digestive problems are common while pregnant, they can cause stomach discomfort and sometimes, rib cage pain during pregnancy.
Normally, the gallbladder produces a substance called bile, which is composed of cholesterol, water, bilirubin, fats and salts. Bile helps digest the fats in the food that we eat. However, in some cases, the bile becomes too concentrated and create lumps, which is then referred to as gallstones.
Pregnant women are more susceptible to the formation of gallstones due to the increase in the hormone estrogen, which in turn, heightens the concentration of cholesterol in their bodies.
The sudden, sharp rib pain during pregnancy which is usually located in the upper, right portion of the abdomen is a common symptom of gallstones. The location of pain may also move as your pregnancy progresses, and in some cases, it can lead to severe abdominal pain. The other symptoms that may be evident with gallstones are nausea, vomiting, fever, and itching.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
While pregnant, your body’s immune defenses will decrease and the hormonal shifts will enlarge the urethra or the passageway of urine. On top of that, your growing uterus will compress the urinary bladder, making it more difficult to completely empty all of the urine.
All these conditions will make it more likely for bacteria to build-up and infect the urethra and bladder, thus increasing the pregnant woman’s risk to develop urinary tract infection or UTI. In fact, UTI may affect around 2 to 10 percent of pregnant women.
A common symptom of UTI is the burning or painful urination. Additionally, it may cause lower back pain, fever, more frequent urination, cloudy urine, presence of blood in the urine, and fever. That is why complaints of back rib pain during pregnancy, especially when manifested with other symptoms may be suspected as UTI.
Appendicitis is the inflammation or infection of the appendix, a thin tube in the junction of the small and large intestines that is situated in the lower right portion of the body. Inflamed or infected appendix is extremely painful, especially when the right leg is flexed.
The abdominal pain caused by appendicitis is usually felt on the lower, right side of the abdomen. However, in pregnant women, it can be felt as right rib pain that may radiate to other areas of the abdomen.
The other symptoms associated with appendicitis are fever, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Inflamed appendix can rupture and spread toxins in the pregnant mother’s body and baby, so if you suspect that the pain is caused by appendicitis, report it immediately to your physician.
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-related complication that is characterized by high blood pressure and other signs of organ damage, usually within the kidneys and the liver. The damage in the kidneys may result to the presence of protein in the urine, which can be confirmed by urine test. On the other hand, liver damage can be manifested with a sudden, severe right side rib pain during pregnancy.
The other symptoms associated with preeclampsia are dizziness, headache, seeing floaters or spots, bleeding, nausea and vomiting.
Since preeclampsia is a life-threatening condition, pregnant women who are suspected with this condition need close monitoring until the birth of their baby.
When To Seek Medical Help
Knowing the common characteristics of rib pain, you may now have an idea to differentiate the typical rib pain from those that may be related to an underlying medical cause or a pregnancy-related complication. In most cases, report or schedule a visit to your physician if you experience the following symptoms in addition to rib pain:
- Fever or chills
- High blood pressure
- Eye or vision problems
- Recurrent or severe headaches
- Severe dizziness
- Problems with urination or bowel movements
This way, your doctor can run tests to confirm the cause of rib pain pregnancy complications and also offer an individualized treatment plan for your condition.
How To Relieve Rib Pain During Pregnancy
Rib pain in pregnancy needs prompt evaluation from your doctor to make sure that they are not caused by some underlying medical problems. Rib pain that is not associated with a medical condition may be easily relieved at home. Some techniques that can help with your pregnancy related rib pain are the following:
Your growing baby takes up a lot of space in your belly and adds up pressure on the organs located below your ribs. Most of the time, changing your position will help alleviate the pain. Consider turning sides when sleeping and adding up a couple of pillows to elevate your upper torso to relieve the rib area from pressure. Positioning can help relieve rib pain that is caused by heartburn and pressure from the growing fetus.
Warmth dilates the blood vessels, encourages more blood flow in the area, and can relax the mom-to-be. Soak and wring a warm washcloth and apply it on the area to help relieve rib pain. You can also use a hot water bag or bottle that is wrapped with cloth to apply warmth. Just be extra careful and test the temperature first before the application to prevent scalding the skin on your abdomen.
Upon the approval of your doctor, you may include mild prenatal exercises in your daily routine. Exercises, like prenatal yoga, can help exercise your range of motion, stretch your muscles and ease out pain. Exercising can also help deal with round ligament pain and back pain that is often experienced during pregnancy.
Increasing your water intake while pregnant is extremely important to prevent dehydration, support your baby’s growth and to minimize the risk of UTI. Water helps cleanse the body from the toxins, fats, and unwanted substances that may build-up and become sources of pain and other illnesses while pregnant.
Additionally, you may want to take advantage of increasing your daily intake of fiber while pregnant. This can help prevent constipation which can contribute to pain during pregnancy. Fiber can also help wash away the cholesterol in the body which may be significant in preventing gallstone formation.
Among the rich sources of fiber are whole grains, green and leafy vegetables, and fruits. However, fiber supplements are also available if necessary.
Rib pain during pregnancy is common and most of the time, a normal part of pregnancy. However, pain that is related to an illness will need to be reported immediately to your doctor for prompt evaluation and treatment.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or licensed medical professional before making any medical decisions.