If you’re pregnant and experiencing rib pain, you may be wondering if it’s normal. Rib pain during pregnancy is common, especially in the third trimester as your baby grows. But the pain can start pretty early on in your pregnancy, too.

Pregnancy rib pain can be the result of your baby physically kicking you in the ribs, stretching out under your ribs, or just moving by your ribs. The pain can also be caused by your muscles stretching out. In some rare cases, it might be caused by a medical complication.

Here’s what causes rib pain during pregnancy, how to prevent it, and how to stay comfortable until you deliver.

Musculoskeletal changes

Changes to your body that occur during pregnancy may cause rib pain. For example, different ranges of motion are limited as your body expands. It's harder to bend forward because there's a human being in the front of you. This limitation can cause rib pain.

Gallstones

Pregnancy puts women at a higher risk for gallstone disease. This is because of higher estrogen levels and slower emptying of the gallbladder and biliary ducts. Both of these can lead to the formation of gallstones.

Up to 30 percent of pregnant and postpartum women will experience biliary "sludge" as a result of those sluggish ducts. Twelve percent of women will actually develop gallstones.

Many times, the sludge and accompanying gallstones don't cause any symptoms. But sometimes, the stones can be severe enough to cause pain. About 1 to 3 percent of women will need surgery postpartum to remove gallstones.

Heartburn

The hormone relaxin is produced during pregnancy. It helps some of the muscles and ligaments literally getting more "relaxed" in preparation for childbirth.

Relaxin may also be responsible for some of the skeletal pain that women feel during pregnancy. This includes pain in the pelvis and possibly in the ribs as your body makes room for baby.

Relaxin is also responsible for relaxing part of the esophagus. This is why pregnant women are so much more prone to heartburn. In some women, that heartburn might manifest as — you guessed it — rib pain.

Other complications

Rib pain during pregnancy can usually be written off as just "normal" discomfort. But for some women, it may have an underlying, more serious cause.

For instance, pain occurring in the upper right abdomen can be a sign of liver disease, preeclampsia, or HELLP syndrome. HELLP is a life-threatening complication. Symptoms include protein in the urine and high blood pressure.

Seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing sudden, severe rib pain and have any of the following symptoms:

  • dizziness
  • seeing spots or floaters in your eye
  • bleeding
  • headaches
  • nausea and vomiting

Rib pain and tumors

There’s some evidence that pregnancy might promote liver growth for women who have cancer, or are at high risk for developing liver cancer. If you’re having severe pain under your right rib, your doctor can check for signs of a tumor. A tumor might force your liver up into your rib cage.

Pregnancy also makes your blood clot more, so some women are at higher risk for blood clots. These can happen in a rare condition called Budd-Chiari syndrome. Budd-Chiari can affect the kidneys and liver. Severe rib pain should always be checked out by your doctor.

If a baby's foot stuck in your body parts is causing your rib pain, you may be out of luck. But you might be able to prevent some degree of rib pain by staying active and exercising during pregnancy. Both of these will help you stay comfortable and prevent excess weight gain. This can contribute to the pain.

To help prevent the formation of the gallstones, focus on eating a healthy diet. Eating a high-fat diet can lead to gallstones.

If you’re experiencing rib pain, try the following remedies to help ease your discomfort.

Visit a chiropractor

An adjustment can help make sure your skeletal system is in the correct position, especially as the stress of pregnancy shifts your body. An adjustment may also help your baby settle into a lower position, taking some pressure off of your ribs.

Use an exercise ball

Those oversized exercise balls are lifesavers during pregnancy, especially for rib pain. Drape yourself on your back on the ball and do a few roll-outs.

Shop for exercise balls.

Exercise

It may seem like the last thing you want to do, but doing gentle exercise, such as yoga with lots of stretching, will help keep your muscles loose. It will also help keep both you and the baby as healthy as possible.

Some mild rib pain is to be expected during pregnancy. But if you experience severe and sudden rib or abdominal pain, be sure to see your doctor. They’ll need to make sure that it's not any other serious medical condition.

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