How To Sleep With Rib Pain During Pregnancy

As an expecting dad, I experienced lots of sympathy pains throughout my wife’s pregnancy. But nothing was quite as jarring as when she started having bad rib pain at night. It seemed like the discomfort woke her up constantly, and I felt helpless just watching her squirm and struggle to get comfortable.

Of course I was thrilled we were going to be parents, but seeing the woman I loved in so much pain was really hard. I wanted to make it better but wasn’t sure how. All I could do was offer massages, words of comfort, and pillow arrangements in the hopes that she could get a little relief and some precious sleep.

Sometimes she would sleep propped up on a mountain of pillows. Other times she could only fall asleep sitting up on the couch. Her rib pain made her so miserable and exhausted. I started doing a lot of reading online to educate myself about what was causing this and how I could actually help.

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What Does Pregnancy Rib Pain Feel Like

Rib pain can be felt on one or both sides, and it can be under the breast or on the side of the chest towards the bottom of the rib cage. The pain can sometimes radiate to the back. The pain can be described as tenderness to the touch, a deep ache or burn around the rib or upper back that makes sustained sitting difficult, or painful coughing, sneezing, laughing, or deep breathing. 

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Causes of Rib Pain During Pregnancy

As an expectant father who has been through this with my wife, I understand how uncomfortable rib pain can be for pregnant women. The most common causes of rib pain during pregnancy are:

  • Expanding Uterus – As the uterus grows, it pushes up against the ribs which can cause soreness and pain. The expanding uterus puts pressure on the diaphragm and ribs as it grows larger, especially in the third trimester. This is often felt as rib pain on the right side but can occur on both sides.
  • Changes in Posture – The extra weight in the front of the body shifts the center of gravity, causing the spine to curve back. This puts strain on the ribs and intercostal muscles between them. The ribs must expand to allow room for the growing belly. Maintaining poor posture can increase rib pain.
  • Heartburn – The hormone progesterone causes relaxation of the muscles, including the esophageal sphincter. This allows stomach acid to travel up the esophagus causing heartburn. The pain from heartburn can radiate to the chest and ribs.
  • Gas – Increased levels of progesterone also slow down digestion causing more gas production. This gas can accumulate and cause pressure or pain under the ribs.
  • Baby’s Position – If the baby nestles under the ribs, his/her movements can cause discomfort. The baby’s position, especially during the last trimester, can strain the ligaments and nerves surrounding the ribs.

Rib pain is common during pregnancy but always mention it to your doctor. There are many relief options to try for getting better sleep.

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How Does Rib Pain Change During Each Trimester Of Pregnancy?

Rib pain during pregnancy can change throughout each trimester due to various factors. Here’s a breakdown of how rib pain may change during each trimester:

  • First trimester: Rib pain is often caused by your body expanding to accommodate your growing baby, specifically your uterus. By the end of the first trimester, your baby will only weigh an ounce or two, taking some pressure off your rib cage.
  • Second trimester: Rib pain may be due to heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion, which can give you rib pain during pregnancy. This is because your baby is putting pressure on your stomach, and pregnancy hormones relax the muscles around your esophagus (food pipe).
  • Third trimester: Rib pain tends to continue later in pregnancy, when the uterus is expanding in earnest and putting more pressure on the ribs. Your baby is also growing bigger and may start to press against the ribs, causing aches and pains.

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When to See a Doctor

As an expectant dad, I know pregnancy comes with all kinds of aches and pains. Some rib pain is normal as your baby grows and your organs get squeezed and shifted around. However, severe or persistent rib pain can be a sign of something more serious.

  • See your doctor right away if the pain is sudden and severe. This could indicate a rib fracture, pneumonia, blood clots in the lung, or other problems that need immediate treatment. Don’t try to just “tough it out” through excruciating pain.
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath along with rib pain needs medical evaluation. Baby’s growth could be constricting lung capacity, or there may be fluid buildup or other complications. Call the doctor if any breathing trouble occurs.
  • Ongoing pain in the ribs that doesn’t improve with stretching, massage, or other comfort measures should be checked by your provider. While some discomfort is expected, you don’t need to live with constant, intense rib pain throughout pregnancy.
  • Notice if the pain worsens at certain times, like when taking deep breaths, coughing, or moving certain ways. Discuss pain triggers with your doctor to determine if any investigations or treatment are recommended.

Don’t hesitate to call the doctor about severe rib pain, breathing issues, or discomfort that persists for days on end. Pregnancy takes a toll on your body, but some rib pain may indicate concerns that need to be addressed for mom and baby’s wellbeing. As an expectant father, stay alert to warning signs so you can get prompt medical attention when needed. Your partner and child’s health are the top priorities.

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How To Sleep With Rib Pain During Pregnancy

Sleeping Positions to Avoid

As an expectant dad who has been through this with my partner, I know firsthand how painful rib pain during pregnancy can be. There are certain sleeping positions that tend to make the pain worse. It’s important to avoid these as much as possible for comfort.

Lying flat on your back is one position my wife and I learned to avoid. When lying on the back, the weight of the baby pushes directly on the ribs which causes discomfort. Sleeping flat on the back can also decrease circulation.

Sleeping on the side that has rib pain is another position to avoid. My wife would try to sleep on her sore side thinking it may help stretch out the muscles. However, it usually just aggravated the area more and caused her to wake up in even worse pain. I’d often hear her crying out in the middle of the night after attempting this.

The key is being mindful about positions that increase pressure and tension on the ribs. While side sleeping is best, make sure to lay on the side that does not have the pain. Also placing a pillow under the belly and between the knees can take stress off the upper body. With some adjustments, it is possible to find better sleep positions while dealing with rib discomfort.

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Better Sleeping Positions

As a dad who has been through this with my pregnant wife, I can tell you that choosing the right sleeping position is key to reducing rib pain at night. The two positions that tended to work best for us were:

Sleeping Propped Up

Instead of lying flat, prop your upper body up on some pillows so you’re on an incline. This takes pressure off the abdomen and ribs. You can use regular bed pillows, a pregnancy pillow, or a wedge pillow to prop yourself up. Place another pillow under your knees for added comfort. Sleeping slightly upright makes it easier to get in and out of bed as well.

Lying on Your Non-Painful Side

If the pain is localized to one side of your ribcage, lying on your other side can help take pressure off the affected ribs. Place a pillow between your knees and under your belly for support. If you experience pain on both sides, try alternating sides during the night. Listen to your body and go with what feels most comfortable.

The key is finding positions that keep your belly supported and the weight off your ribcage. Be patient and keep trying different options until you discover what works best. The second trimester is when rib pain tends to be most common, so this too shall pass!

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Using Pillows for Support

As your belly grows, sleeping on your side becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Placing pillows strategically can help take pressure off your ribs and make resting easier.

Try placing a firm pillow lengthwise under your belly. This will help support the weight of your stomach and take tension off your torso. Don’t use a soft, fluffy pillow that can bunch up. A full body pillow that extends from head to knees works perfectly.

Put a pillow between your knees as well. Keeping your knees slightly bent and supported can help maintain alignment of your back and relieve rib discomfort. This prevents your belly from pulling your upper body forward and straining your ribs. Choose a slim pillow so your knees stay close together.

You may also want to invest in a pregnancy pillow that wraps all the way around your body. These C-shaped or U-shaped pillows allow you to rest face down while keeping space for your bump. They are invaluable for taking pressure off your ribs throughout pregnancy.

Experiment with pillow placement each night to find the most comfortable position. Proper support can help you finally get some restful sleep.

There are several types of pillows that can help with rib pain during pregnancy. Some of the most effective pillows include:

  1. Pregnancy body pillows: These large, U or C-shaped pillows are designed to contour around your body, providing support for both your back and belly while reducing strain on the rib muscles.
  2. Wedge pillows: A wedge-shaped cushion that can be placed under your side or back to elevate specific areas, helping ease rib pain by taking pressure off sore ribs.
  3. Lumbar rolls: This cylindrical pillow is perfect for supporting the lower back when sitting up in bed or lying down, using an incline or wedge pillow to elevate the upper body slightly, avoiding lying flat on your back, and trying the semi-fetal or SOS position.
  4. Knee/leg pillows: These pillows can be placed between your knees or under your legs to provide additional support and comfort while sleeping.
  5. Body pillows: These pillows provide additional support to your growing belly, back, and hips while sleeping on your side. They also help maintain proper spinal alignment, which may alleviate pressure on the rib cage.

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Using KT Tape For Support

KT tape can be used to relieve rib pain during pregnancy by providing support, increasing circulation, and relaxing strained muscles. It can help alleviate discomfort by supporting the ribs while allowing for breathing and increasing circulation to promote the healing process.

The tape should be applied before activity, and caution should be taken if you have skin sensitivities or are pregnant. Kinesiology tape is considered safe for managing discomfort during pregnancy, offering a drug-free and non-invasive alternative to medication.

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Pain Management Techniques

As your belly grows, the weight on your ribs can really start to hurt. But there are some things you can try at home to manage the rib pain and help you sleep better.

Warm or Cold Compresses

Applying something warm or cold to the sore ribs can help reduce inflammation and relax the muscles. Try taking a warm shower or using a heating pad on the lowest setting for 10-15 minutes. You can also roll up a towel and microwave it for 30 seconds to make a DIY heating pad. For cold therapy, wrap some ice cubes or a bag of frozen peas in a thin towel and apply to the ribs for about 15 minutes. Alternating warm and cold compresses may provide extra relief.

Massage

Massaging the muscles around the ribs can loosen tightness and decrease pain. Have your partner rub the sore spots gently using small circular motions. Apply firm, but not too hard pressure. Massage with a natural oil to allow hands to glide smoothly over the skin. Lavender or chamomile oil can be calming. Massage for 5-10 minutes, 1-2 times per day. The improved circulation can speed healing.

Stretches

Gentle stretches can relax the muscles and reduce rib discomfort. Try side bends by slowly reaching one arm over head towards the opposite side. Or stand in a doorway, place your forearms on the door frame, and lean forward to feel a stretch in your sides. Move slowly when stretching, and stop if you feel any sharp pain. Doing a few simple stretches regularly can keep the muscles flexible.

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When to Take Medication

As a pregnant mom, you want to be very careful about any medication you take. Most pain relievers like ibuprofen are not recommended during pregnancy since they can affect the baby’s development.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is generally considered safe for short-term use. It can provide relief from rib pain without harming your little one. Be sure to take only the recommended dosage and consult your doctor first.

Some prescription pain medications may be okay for severe pain if approved by your provider, but they do carry more risks. Opioid painkillers in particular are not advised because they can cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms in your baby after birth.

The safest route is to use other comfort measures first before turning to medication. But if the rib pain becomes unbearable, acetaminophen and staying in close contact with your provider can help provide relief. Don’t feel guilty about needing some medical assistance – taking care of your own health is important for your baby too.

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Other Tips for Comfort

As an expectant dad, I understand how uncomfortable rib pain can be for my pregnant partner. Here are some other tips we’ve found that help provide her some relief:

Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Tight clothing can put extra pressure on the ribs and make pain worse. Try wearing loose shirts and dresses, and opt for pants with a stretchy waistband or maternity leggings. Flowy, breathable fabrics like cotton can help avoid irritation.

Use a heating pad. Applying a heating pad or warm compress to the ribs can relax the muscles and reduce pain. Just be sure to keep the temperature moderate – not too hot – and avoid prolonged direct contact to one area. Check with your doctor first about any temperature restrictions.

Try massage. Having me gently rub or massage the sides of her rib cage seems to ease some of the discomfort when the pain flares up. Light, soothing massage can relieve muscle tension. Just be sure to avoid any deep tissue massage right over the ribs.

Take warm baths. Warm water can have a therapeutic effect on aching muscles and joints. My partner enjoys soaking in an Epsom salt bath in the evenings to unwind. The buoyancy of the water takes pressure off the ribs as well. Just be careful getting in and out of the tub.

Use cold packs. Some find that cold temperatures help numb rib discomfort. Try wrapping an ice pack or bag of frozen peas in a thin towel and applying to the sore ribs for 10-15 minutes at a time. Make sure your partner can communicate if it gets too cold.

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Know You’re Not Alone

I know rib pain during pregnancy can feel isolating. When that searing, stabbing pain strikes in the middle of the night, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one suffering. But you’re not alone in this!

The truth is, many, many pregnant women experience rib pain at some point. It’s an extremely common symptom, especially in the third trimester as your baby grows bigger and starts running out of room. All that little one’s wiggling, kicking, elbowing and kneeing right up under your ribs is no joke!

While every woman’s pregnancy is unique, you can rest assured that countless others are right there with you, tossing and turning through the night as their little bundles of joy tap dance on their ribs. Take comfort in knowing you have solidarity among the ranks of expectant mothers dealing with rib pain and other pregnancy discomforts. This too shall pass! And soon, that rib pain will be a distant memory replaced by the joy of holding your beautiful newborn.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is rib pain normal in pregnancy?

Rib pain is a common occurrence during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester as the baby grows. It can be caused by the baby physically kicking or stretching out under the ribs, or by the muscles stretching out. In most cases, the cause of rib pain is harmless, resulting from the pressure of the growing fetus. However, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional if you have concerns or if the pain is severe or persistent.

How can I stop my ribs from hurting during pregnancy?

To alleviate rib pain during pregnancy, you can try the following:
1. Use supportive pillows such as pregnancy body pillows, wedge pillows, and lumbar rolls to find a comfortable sleeping position.
2. Practice proper posture throughout the day to help alleviate rib pain.
3. Perform gentle stretches to relieve tension and discomfort.
4. Apply heat or cold packs to the affected area.
5. Wear loose clothing to reduce pressure on your ribs.

What is the best position to sleep in when pregnant with rib pain?

The best sleeping position to relieve rib pain during pregnancy is on your left side with a body pillow between your legs. This position is recommended for optimal blood flow and can help reduce discomfort.

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