Acid Reflux & Rib Pain in Pregnancy

Diaphragm massage for pregnancy reflux & rib pain

Diaphragm massage on pregnant belly for reflux 

We are known for helping women with their aches and pains, especially during their pregnancy journeys. CHIRO FOR MOMS also has tools to help combat other common battles during pregnancy — like heartburn, acid reflux & rib pain. Understand your heartburn during pregnancy & use our home remedies for reflux to find relief!

Table of Contents:

Why Do You Have Heartburn during Pregnancy?

Before we dive into the home remedies for reflux during pregnancy, we need to understand why you have heartburn in the first place. There are many factors that can play into heartburn symptoms during pregnancy. As chiropractors, we focus on the biomechanical changes of pregnancy that can trigger these symptoms. As baby grows and the uterus expands, there is additional upward pressure being placed on the diaphragm and rib cage. This pressure increase places stress on the a stomach sphincter. Additionally, there are hormonal changes at play that affect how well this sphincter can work [how tightly it closes], and how food is digested in generally. These factors ultimately play into heartburn, reflux & rib pain in pregnancy.

Reflux & Rib Pain

Acid reflux and rib pain can often go hand in hand, especially during pregnancy! Rib pain can really be anywhere along the rib cage— the front, either side, or the mid back. With reflux, we commonly hear pregnant women complain of pain under the rib cage that sometimes wraps to the back side. Normal, uncontrollable pregnancy changes can provoke this pain, but it can also be caused by over-exertion, lots of coughing, and irregular breathing patterns. 

But what’s the connection between rib pain & reflux? Reflux or heartburn is generally caused by contents of the stomach rising into the esophagus. Ideally, the sphincter or valve between the stomach and esophagus prevents this from happening. Our esophagus passes through our diaphragm before reaching our stomach. The diaphragm is our primarily breathing muscle that lives under our rib cage and can be the source of many women’s pain under rib cage. Due to the diaphragm’s close connection to the stomach and esophagus, tension in the diaphragm can trigger heartburn symptoms.
Esophagus traveling through diaphragm to stomach
Esophagus traveling through diaphragm to stomach
Even before the uterus expands, the rib cage changes orientation and shifts upward. This is why some women start experiencing pain in the rib cage even  before their belly really grows! As baby grows and starts to push up on the diaphragm, ribs, and esophagus, pregnant women often experience reflux symptoms along with rib pain.

If you are experiencing more generalized rib pain or rib cage pain, try our Stretches for Rib Cage Pain in Pregnancy

Home Remedies for Reflux in Pregnancy

These home remedies for reflux are simple and safe for most pregnancies! It is always recommended to consult your health care professional before starting any new health routine, supplement, etc. 

Diaphragm Massage for Reflux

Your diaphragm is your primary breathing muscles and is shaped like a dome below your rib cage. The diaphragm connects to the sternum, lower ribs, and your spine. This muscle influences heartburn symptoms, especially during pregnancy, like we talked about earlier.

You can massage and work through trigger points along your diaphragm to help relieve pain under the ribs and improve reflux symptoms in pregnancy. Use a lotion or Biofreeze on your belly to help you glide along the lower rib cage. We find its best to start at your sternum and work down & out along the rib cage, focusing on any areas that are extra tender. You can use light to moderate pressure! The video below demonstrates this massage technique.

PRO TIP: use Biofreeze for your diaphragm massage before applying belly tape for reflux!

Belly Taping for Reflux

Kinesiology tape can be used basically anywhere on the body, even your belly! Use kinesiology or KT tape on your lower rib cage & diaphragm for reflux or heartburn relief in pregnancy! KT tape gently lifts the skin up, creating space between the layers of tissue underneath. This space allows for better fluid movement and muscle relaxation. Watch the video below to get the full tutorial on belly taping for acid reflux & rib pain. 

Adjust Your Sleeping Position

If you are struggling to heartburn at night or when you are trying to sleep, you can consider adjusting your sleeping position. First things first, make sure you are avoiding late meals and laying down directly after a meal. If you are still battling the burn, we have 2 sleeping positions for you to try!

Try sleeping on your left side to reduce night time heartburn in pregnancy. The stomach lives on the left side directly below the diaphragm and rib cage. When you lay on your left side, gravity, the stomach shape, and the angle of the esophagus, help reduce reflux symptoms.


Left side sleeping for heartburn, home remedies for reflux during pregnancy

If side sleeping isn’t your thing, consider using a wedge pillow! You can use a knee wedge with other pillows to prop yourself up at an angle. The angled position allows gravity to assist in relieving your heartburn! Typically, its not recommended for pregnant women to be on their backs for an extended period of time. This is because the weight of the uterus can compress abdominal blood vessels and affect blood flow. This is NOT an issue if you are supported at an angle, since the extra weight isn’t directly compressing downward.

Pregnancy Stretches for Diaphragm & Rib Pain

We love a good mobility routine around here. Stretching and moving in ways that support your pregnant body can help you avoid or battle pain during your pregnancy. The video below walks through 10 unique stretches & exercises that target diaphragm tension and rib mobility. 

Tools used in the video : exercise ball, tennis or lacrosse ball, and biofreeze.

Find the entire FREE Pregnancy Pain Program on YouTube >>> PREGNANCY PELVIC FLOOR AND CORE PAIN PROGRAM. Move through months 3-9 of pregnancy pain free by stretching with us! Each video is roughly 10 minutes long - so it's possible to make it part of your daily habit!

Belly Sifting

Belly sifting is traditionally used to promote optimal baby position & prepare for labor. However, we can also use this technique to help pregnant women with their heartburn symptoms. With belly sifting, a partner can take the weight of the uterus from mom which can take pressure off the diaphragm, stomach, and lower esophagus. Even small increments of regular belly sifting can provide immense relief for pregnancy rib pain & reflux.

How to Belly Sift:

    • You'll want to use your exercise ball and a scarf [a towel or sheet can work too]!
    • Use the exercise ball to support the upper body. Let belly drop to the ground while the hips stay high.
    • Make sure the scarf is wrapped comfortably, completely covering belly.
    • A partner will be in a wide stance over the women’s pelvis in order to lift up on the ends of the scarf. It’s best to lift initially with your legs!
    • Using their arms, the partner will lift side to side creating space and relieving pressure in the front and back of the torso

**Note: this technique is not appropriate for mamas with an anterior placenta. Consult with your health care provider before performing this technique at home.**

Papaya Enzyme 

Digestive enzymes help us break down food. We can take supplemental versions of these digestive enzymes that are derived from plants + animals. One of these is papaya enzymes or papain. Papaya enzyme can help with occasional heartburn symptoms, like those that arise during pregnancy. When looking for supplements you want to be mindful that it is well sourced and has no artificial additives or preservatives. Some papaya enzymes have added sugar, which is also something to consider when purchasing.

Chia Seed Hack

Try the Chia Seed Hack! The chia seeds end up acting as a barrier for the contents of the stomach to relieve heartburn naturally! Extra bonus : chia seeds are high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and minerals like potassium!

  • Place 1 tablespoon of chia seeds in a shot glass or small cup.
  • Add water, just enough so the seed are covered.
  • Quickly swallow the seeds.
  • You can use this trick 2-3 times a day [after meals is a great time]. 

Thoracic adjustment on pregnant women 

Interested in photos like the ones featured in this post?  We work with Megan Norman, a Minnesota-based family and newborn photographer with incredible talent. 

How Chiropractic Can Help with Rib Cage Pain & Reflux

Your rib cage & your diaphragm attach directly to your spine! When rib pain occurs on the back side, women typically report a sharp or achy discomfort in their upper or middle back. The pain doesn’t stem from the spine but is rather specific to the space between the spine and the shoulder blade. We can adjust where the ribs attach to the spine & the thoracic spine itself to improve the rib pain & reduce any subsequent muscle tension.

One important piece that is often not discussed is the impact of adjustments on the nervous system, and in turn all of the organ systems that nerves control! A large portion of the nervous system is housed in the spinal column and these nerves exit the column at various spots in order to travel to organs and communicate information and instructions. The upper neck and the middle back houses the nerves that control and monitor the upper digestive system [esophagus & stomach]. Adjustments in these regions can ultimately improve reflux by improving the function of the organs and structures responsible for the problem.


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Medical Disclaimer:

All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.*

As always, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions//thoughts surrounding this topic!