If you’re like most pregnant women, you’re probably curious about what to expect during your second trimester. This is an exciting time in your pregnancy, as your body undergoes many changes and you begin to feel more and more baby kicks (love those!). One common issue that many pregnant women experience during their second trimester is pain under the bra line (often on your rib cage). While this can be a bit uncomfortable, it’s normally not something to worry about. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the causes of pain under the bra line during pregnancy and ways to relieve it. We hope that this information will help make your second trimester a little bit easier!
But first, why listen to me?
Hi — I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 I have helped thousands women navigate the aches and pains of pregnancy and I’m excited to share what you can do here.
I’ve also had my own issues with this pain that was actually more than just the “normal” aches and pains — so read on for my story!
Before we get going, there’s a lot of weird things that can be an issue (or completely normal) so be sure to use an expert when you’re getting prepared!
What could be causing the pain under your bra line?
The most common cause of pain under your bra line during pregnancy the baby moving into that space that was previously occupied by ribs, diaphragm and lungs (usually with their head or bum). It tends to be rib pain, but may be more intercostal pain (the muscles between your ribs) as baby grows into that space. As baby moves up into that area it can cause pain as those stretch and expand to their new spots. This pain may come and go for much of your pregnancy….
So, it could be one of the very normal aches and pains of pregnancy.
But, there are other things it could be:
• Weight gain, which puts extra strain on your abdomen and pulls on those round ligaments holding your uterus.
• Constipation, while if you’re REALLY constipated this could show as rib pain, more often this could contribute to the issue if you’re having to bear down hard to get out constipated bowel movements.
• Gas and bloating, which can cause discomfort in the abdomen (and if your intestines are filled with gas it can cause rib pain)
• Diastasis recti where your abdominal muscles are splitting
• If you’ve had a virus with a strong cough it could be a one of the causes of rib — check out my post on if coughing can induce labor, I also have a post on what cough medicines a pregnant person can take.
Pro Tip About Ligament Pain: This pain is normally sharper rather than dull. It often comes when you get up, change position quickly, cough or sneeze (or laugh hard).
Rib Pain in the First Trimester
Again, this is probably due to your organs re-arranging themselves for your growing uterus. It could also be from a lot of vomiting if you have bad morning sickness. Similar to the pain from coughing, frequent vomiting can cause some muscular pains.
I’d definitely mention it to your provider to see what they think.
Second Trimester Pain Under the Bra Line
What I’ve said above definitely applies to the second trimester.
BUT it could also be your bra. So, maybe try a different type of bra to see if it helps. Your breasts are already changing and more support can be helpful. See if the pain has any association to your bra.
While unusual, it could also be an enlarging of your liver to preeclampisa — and we’re going to talk about that more in the next section.
Second Trimester Pro Tip: Now is the time to pick out your prenatal class. The Online Prenatal Class for Couples is available whenever you are, and comes at a couple of price points to fit your budget!
Third Trimester Rib Pain
The causes of pain under your bra line during the third trimester are the same as they’d be in the second trimester — just enhanced as baby is taking up more and more room (and will continue to do so).
The main thing we’d worry or think about in this case (if the pain is beyond the baby pushing up into your ribs) could be an enlarging of your liver, which happens with preeclampsia. It is definitely something you should mention to your provider. They can do some quick tests like a urine dipstick in the office, and checking your blood pressure to see if that’s the issue (high blood pressure is one of the main signs of preeclampsia). If any of those tests are problematic, they can do further blood tests to check for preeclampsia (also called PIH or HELP syndrome).
This becomes more confusing in the third trimester as preeclampsia is more common, and also everything is more uncomfortable at that point.
Often, physicians may order a scan of your liver and kidneys if you’re having a lot of this pain (and your PIH labs come back normal). Especially if it is on the right side (as that is where your liver is).
Third Trimester Pro Tip: I know a lot of people at this point feel like they missed their “window” to get prepared for birth, but that’s not true at all! The Online Prenatal Class for Couples is just a few hours and really does get you prepared (I just take out a bunch of the useless stuff).
Rib Pain After Baby is Born
Sometimes your body is still adjusting to live without the baby in there. Hopefully it goes away soon — however, preeclampsia can be an issue for those first few months after baby is born — so it might be worth a call into your provider about it. Other signs of preeclampsia include:
- Headache (especially if it doesn’t go away with 2 giant glasses of water and a tylenol)
- Blurry vision
My Story With Rib Pain During Pregnancy
I had rib pain with each of my pregnancies on my right side. It started just after 20 weeks or so with each baby. At first I just thought that my bra wasn’t fitting well and was digging into my ribs. However, purchasing new bras wasn’t fixing the issue (or, not even wearing one). I also thought it might be my maternity pants bothering it, but changing pants didn’t help either.
By my third baby it was REALLY painful. I talked with my provider about it and she sent me for a liver ultrasound (all of my other PIH labs were fine, so we weren’t too worried, but wanted to be sure since the pain was so distinct). Which came back normal.
At that point we were both stumped. I did know that pushing patient beds as a nurse made the pain about 1,000 times worse — so she sent me to a physical therapist. She gave me some stretches to try, which helped — but ultimately she said that I have pregnancy-induced scoliosis.
I have a VERY mild scoliosis (where your back bends abnormally) when I am not pregnant, but pregnancy makes it worse and that area pulls on my ribs awkwardly. So, ultimately, there wasn’t much they could do other than for me to have my baby. The stretching did help a bit when it was bad — but mostly I just had to rest more and try to tolerate the pain as much as possible. I actually ended up leaving work a bit earlier than I had planned on my third baby because the pain was so bad.
It’s honestly not something that I’ve ever heard mentioned, so I thought I’d share it here in case any of you are frustrated by your own rib pain.
BUT, I also did have a pelvis that was slowly splitting. That may have very well lead to this issue — and I wish that I had tried a support belt during pregnancy to see if helped my rib pain (it definitely would have helped my pelvis pain).
How to alleviate the rib pain
If you’re experiencing pain under your bra line during pregnancy, there are a few things that you can do to relieve the discomfort.
• Practice good posture. This will help reduce the strain on your abdomen and back.
• Take a warm bath or use a heating pad on the affected area for relief.
• If you’re laying on your side, use a pillow under your belly so it isn’t hurting the ligaments by just “hanging” there
• Try several positions when you’re laying down to see if any get baby out of the way of your ribs
• Exercise regularly to strengthen the abdominal muscles and reduce the pressure on your abdomen (but be mindful of anything that makes it worse). These core muscle exercises might help too.
• Avoid constipation by eating a high-fiber diet, drinking plenty of water, and taking stool softeners if necessary (bearing down hard when constipated can make this pain worse — so this is good advice)
• Try doing yoga or other low-impact exercises like walking to help with pain relief.
Ultimately, none of those things helped which is why my doctor sent me to physical therapy.
Here is the super important lesson:
This is an important lesson that there are a LOT of really annoying and weird things that happen to our bodies during pregnancy. BUT if they are causing you limitations to your activities of daily living, your provider should try the “normal” things to see if they help and then advance you on to someone who can help better — which, for me, was a physical therapist.
You may also want to talk with your provider about a chiropractor in the area that they trust.
You should not expect your obstetrician to have all the answers. Medical care is highly specialized, so if you’re not getting what you need from your provider. Push to have them help you see someone who might be able to help.
Also, sometimes you just want to know that everything’s OK and you’re not worried as long as things are fine — and that’s fine too. It mostly depends on how the pain is effecting you. Your call (but sometimes doctors don’t know you want a fix — they figure you just want to know things are OK).
When to see a doctor for rib pain during pregnancy?
If you’re experiencing severe or persistent pain under your bra line during pregnancy, it’s important to speak with your doctor. It’s possible that the pain could be due to something other than the normal changes of pregnancy, so it’s best to have it checked out to be sure. This IS a symptom they’ll want to know about — especially since it can relate to preeclampsia.
It is also important to remember that if you are having pain anywhere in your abdomen, sudden swelling or redness in the area, a fever, or signs of infection, you should seek medical attention right away as these could be signs of a more serious medical condition.
Some tips for making life a little easier during this time period
• Take it easy, try to get plenty of rest, and take short naps throughout the day if necessary.
• Ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask family or friends for assistance with household tasks or childcare while you’re feeling uncomfortable. Personally, there were household jobs I stopped doing because this pain was so much (and made worse by doing things like cleaning anything below my waist). My supportive partner was willing to pick up those tasks for a bit.
• Try practicing relaxation techniques like yoga and deep breathing to help reduce stress and relax your body.
• Talk to your doctor about other ways to manage pain or discomfort during pregnancy, such as medications or alternative therapies.
• Eat a healthy diet filled with nutrient-rich foods that will help nourish your body.
• Wear appropriate footwear that doesn’t hurt your feet or posture.
• Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other fluids throughout the day.
• Wear comfortable clothing that won’t irritate your skin or put too much pressure on your abdomen.
• Speak to a counselor if you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious about the changes in your body during pregnancy.
It is SO normal to feel like your body is being taken over by something. I 100% understand that feeling. Hopefully this article helped you understand what might be causing the rib pain in pregnancy and what you can do about it. Plus, how to know when you should be getting help beyond your regular provider.
If you’re interested in learning more about your body during pregnancy and delivery — along with tons of helpful tips on communicating with your provider, don’t miss out on The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. We aim to help you feel confident, and prepared for your delivery in just a few hours.
I love what Mary H had to said about the class:
“Hilary’s class was great! We went through a few classes (nervous first-time parents) and hers was hands-down the best. Her style was straight-forward and direct, but still funny and definitely engaging. I would (and will!) highly recommend!”Check-out the Online Prenatal Class Reviews here!
And, if you’re not quite sure you’re ready for that whole thing, check out my free prenatal class. It’s your first step toward getting in the driver’s seat of your birth.
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice. She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.
As an evidence-based prenatal educator Hilary has delivered thousands of babies and has educated hundreds of thousands of parents from a diverse patient population to help them have a confident birth.