Why do my ribs hurt during pregnancy? Causes + tips for relief


Pregnancy is a wondrous experience filled with anticipation and excitement. As your body adapts to accommodate your growing baby, pregnancy is also a time of incredible physical change, which can bring discomfort, such as rib pain. Rib pain is a common and often frustrating pregnancy issue which has many women wondering, “Why do my ribs hurt now that I’m pregnant?”

Rib pain when pregnant can range from a dull ache to a sharp pain which can make rest and activity uncomfortable. For expecting moms, it is important to understand the reasons behind rib pain to manage it and have a comfortable pregnancy.

Whether you are a first-time mom or welcoming another little one, gaining insights into the causes and solutions for rib pain during pregnancy can help you navigate your journey more easily and confidently. So read on for our expert-backed guide on managing rib pain during pregnancy.

Common reasons for rib pain during pregnancy

Rib pain is common among pregnant women. As your baby grows, your body adapts to support your little one. These changes place unexpected pressure on parts of your body, including the ribs.

Factors such as hormonal fluctuations, your expanding uterus, and other physiological adjustments lead to rib pain during pregnancy. Let’s explore the most common causes of rib pain, how they occur, and why they create discomfort.

1. Expanding uterus


Did you know?

    Before pregnancy, your uterus is the size of a pear, but during the early stages of pregnancy, it starts expanding.

As your uterus grows to accommodate your growing baby, you may experience pain in your ribs and side making sleeping on your side uncomfortable. Rib pain is common and usually nothing to worry about. Rib pain typically increases near the end of your pregnancy as your uterus stretches and changes position in your abdomen to accommodate your baby, putting pressure on the ribs and surrounding organs.

2. Hormonal changes

When you become pregnant, your body undergoes tremendous hormonal changes. One specific hormone, relaxin, causes the joints and ligaments to loosen and the ribs to expand. While this is good news for your lungs (which need the extra room), the same can’t be said for your ribs. The expansion may lead to inflammation which means your ribs usually ache throughout pregnancy.

3. Breast enlargement

Once you become pregnant you can expect several changes in your breasts. The veins in your breasts will become more prominent, your nipples enlarge, darken, and become more sensitive, and your breasts increase in size. As your breasts grow, your posture may change. This extra weight can cause rib pain due to the added pressure on the rib cage.

4. Weight gain and posture

As with all pregnancies, you are bound to gain some weight. As your baby develops, your center of gravity, posture, and weight distribution will change. This can put pressure on your hips, lower back, and ribs causing discomfort.

5. Your growing baby

In the second and third trimesters, your uterus will expand upwards to make room for your growing baby. Additionally, your baby’s position will change by the end of the second trimester. Their head will face downwards, and their feet will point toward your ribs. During this time, there is added pressure on the ribs because:

  • Your growing baby starts pressing against your ribs.
  • The extra weight of your baby puts pressure on your abdominal muscles, which puts pressure on the rib muscles.
  • Your baby’s kicks and arm movements can cause your ribs to ache.

6. Other causes of rib pain

These less common reasons can also cause rib pain during pregnancy:

  • Indigestion: The hormone relaxin can relax the esophagus, which may lead to acid reflux and heartburn. This indigestion can result in rib pain. 
  • Urinary tract infection: Pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing a UTI in the third trimester. Pregnancy changes the bacteria in your urinary tract and the baby puts pressure on your bladder, making it harder to urinate. Both of these changes can lead to a UTI. Rib pain is a common side effect of UTIs.
  • Gallstones: Some pregnant women develop gallstones because of difficulty emptying the bladder and higher estrogen levels. Pain in the right abdomen is a symptom of gallstones.
  • Constipation: Constipation is a pregnancy symptom that occurs due to delayed bowel movements. As a result, you may experience pain in the upper abdomen below the ribs.
  • Preeclampsia: Pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia or elevated blood pressure, can also cause pain under the ribs.

Pain in the ribs when pregnant: When to consult your doctor

While a certain level of rib pain is considered normal during pregnancy, some conditions, such as gallstones, UTIs, and preeclampsia require medical attention. Alternatively, pain during the third trimester under the ribs on the right side of your body may be indicative of a liver problem or gallbladder issue. 

In any case, consult your doctor immediately if the pain is persistent, intense, or accompanied by other symptoms like spots in your vision, high blood pressure, or fever. Even if your pain is mild it might be best to consult your physician as they may wish to evaluate your liver and gallbladder as a precaution.

Tips for relieving rib pain during pregnancy

Rib pain may be a common pregnancy occurrence, however, there are several ways to alleviate the pain. Most remedies depend on the cause. For example, if the pain is caused by your baby kicking, your doctor may prescribe you pain medication and recommend a warm bath. 

In some cases, gentle exercise is the solution. In the case of a UTI, prescription antibiotics can fight the infection. Similarly, to treat gallstones, surgery after birth is the most appropriate recourse. Here are a few other remedies you might want to consider:

1. Posture correction

Adjusting your posture while sitting, standing, or lying down can relieve some of the rib pain you experience during pregnancy. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you can train your body to sit, lie, and stand in positions that put the least strain on your back and ribs.

Holding your head straight, knees straight (but not locked), and shoulder blades/chest forward while standing can help, among other things. When sitting, ensure that your shoulders are back and that your back is straight. 

Additionally, the best sleeping position might vary, but it is best not to sleep on your back. Instead, try sleeping on your side with a pillow under your head (not your shoulder), slightly bent knees, and a pillow between your legs. You can find the full article here.

2. Gentle exercises and stretches

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise per week for pregnant women. However, a study shows that only 40% of pregnant women exercise despite the myriad benefits for mother and child. Gentle exercise, especially stretching, is helpful when dealing with rib pain.

Alternatively, you could try using an exercise ball to stretch out your back and chest muscles. Stretches like side bends can relieve tightness and pressure and open up the rib cage. For the best results, it is best to seek advice from a certified chiropractor or pregnancy yoga instructor.

3. Heat and cold therapy

Heat pads and ice packs are both safe and effective ways to relieve rib pain (albeit temporarily), as long as you do not apply them directly to the abdomen.

Disclaimer: Ensure you consult a professional and clear it with your doctor before undertaking any exercise or trying remedies to ease your pain.

Rib pain during pregnancy is a common occurrence and typically nothing to worry about. It is manageable if you follow the right steps and thankfully, won’t last forever. By understanding the reasons behind rib pain and following these tips, you can make your pregnancy journey more comfortable and enjoyable.


  1. Rib pain during pregnancy. 2024. Nebraska Medicine. Is rib pain during pregnancy normal?
  2. About rib pain in pregnancy. 2019. Medical News Today. What to know about rib pain during pregnancy.
  3. Pregnancy rib pain. 2018. Maternal Massage Utah. Pregnancy rib pain.
  4. How to relieve pregnancy rib pain. Carl Todds Clinics. Rib Pain During Pregnancy: Causes and How to Relieve It.
  5. Is pregnancy rib pain normal? Miracle Cord. Is Rib Pain During Pregnancy Normal? (+ How to Get Relief)
  6. Posture during pregnancy. Cleveland Clinic. Pregnancy: Correct Posture & Body Mechanics.
  7. Pregnancy exercises. 2023. Medical News Today. Exercise tips for pregnancy.

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