You asked, we answered: Is rib pain during pregnancy normal?

picture of a pregnant woman


I'm pregnant for the first time and I have pain in the upper left side by my ribs – is this normal?

Answer from OB-GYN Karen Carlson, MD:

Rib pain during pregnancy is common and usually not a cause for concern.

As your baby grows, your uterus expands, putting pressure on the surrounding organs and structures, including the ribs. This pressure can cause discomfort and sometimes even pain.

Additionally, hormonal changes during pregnancy can loosen the joints and ligaments in your body, including those in the rib cage. This loosening can lead to inflammation, exacerbating your discomfort.

When rib pain is concerning

While rib pain is generally considered normal during pregnancy, there are certain instances where it should be checked by a health care provider.

Pain under the ribs on the right side during the third trimester could indicate a liver problem. Pain under the ribs can also be caused by gallbladder issues, especially if the pain is worse after eating fatty meals.

If you have pain under your ribs during pregnancy, tell your provider. They may want to conduct tests to evaluate your liver and gallbladder function.

Dealing with rib pain

You can try several things to alleviate discomfort in the rib area during pregnancy.

  • Gentle stretches. Stretches that open the rib cage, such as side bends, can help relieve pressure and tightness. Consider yoga, pilates or a simple at-home stretching routine.
  • Regular movement. There are many benefits to exercise in pregnancy, including pain reduction.
  • Alternative sleeping positions. An incline or wedge pillow may provide more support for your ribs and abdomen and help alleviate the pain.
  • Heat or ice. Applying heat or cold to the affected area can also provide temporary relief. However, never apply heat directly to your abdomen.
  • Topical anti-inflammatory gels. Products like Icy Hot® or Biofreeze® may offer localized pain relief.
  • Kinesiology tape or binders. These add support and stability and relieve pressure on the back.

If the pain worsens, your provider may recommend seeing a physical therapist. They can share additional guidance and techniques to manage rib pain.

Remember, every pregnancy is unique; what works for one person may not work for you. It is always a good idea to discuss your symptoms with your provider. They can provide personalized advice and recommendations based on your circumstances.

Between check-ups? 
Send your OB-GYN a message in the Nebraska Medicine app. You can also call 800.922.0000 to make an appointment.