Rib pain is very common in pregnancy, especially during the third trimester (weeks 28 to 40).
Make an appointment to see your GP if you are less than 12 weeks pregnant and you get shoulder or rib pain. In rare cases this can be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy.
Causes of rib pain in pregnancy
During pregnancy some changes happen to your body that can make rib pain more likely.
Breasts getting bigger
This extra weight can cause rib pain.
The hormones of pregnancy cause your ligaments to relax and soften. This may mean that the bones in your chest wall move more than they normally would and could cause pain.
Baby getting bigger
As your baby grows and takes up extra space inside you, they may put pressure on your chest wall and ribs.
Heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion
Heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion can give you rib pain during pregnancy. This is because your baby is putting pressure on your stomach.
Urinary tract infection
Rib pain, particularly in your lower ribs at the front or the back, can be a sign of a urinary tract infection.
Contact your GP if you have any of the following:
- pain on passing urine (peeing)
- cloudy urine
- blood in the urine
- a high temperature
- burning or stinging feeling when peeing
Preventing rib pain in pregnancy
- Be mindful of your posture - sitting up straight with your head up and shoulders back reduces your risk of rib pain. It also reduces pain in your upper back and neck.
- Wear a properly-fitted and supportive bra and avoid underwire. It might be worth getting a nursing bra that you can wear after the baby is born.
- Pregnancy yoga and pilates helps improve posture and strength and flexibility of muscles.
- Deep breathing exercises during the day may help, as well as before bedtime.
- Try using a few pillows at bedtime to help you get comfortable.
Ways to deal with the pain
There are some stretches that can help you when you have pain in your ribs.
Follow these steps:
- Try sitting and bending your upper body sideways.
- Bend away from the side of the pain.
- Raise the arm on the same side as the pain above your head.
- Hold for a few minutes, taking deep breaths in and out.
- Relax. Then return to normal.
You can ask for a referral to a chartered physiotherapist who can tailor exercises to your needs.
Other things that may help
- heat treatment - half fill a hot water bottle and hold it to the area where the pain is (the ribs area, not on the bump)
- ask your GP, obstetrician or midwife to refer you to a chartered physiotherapist
- painkillers - you can get a prescription from your obstetrician or GP
When to get urgent medical help
Contact your GP, maternity hospital or obstetrician immediately if you have:
- shortness of breath, coughing up blood or palpitations as these may be signs of a lung infection or a blood clot
- severe pain
- a headache, spots in front of your eyes or dizziness as these could be signs of pre-eclampsia
- tummy pains or bleeding from your vagina and you are less than 12 weeks pregnant
If your pain doesn't improve
Ask your GP or obstetrician to refer you to a chartered physiotherapist who specialises in women’s health.