Note: This was a reader-submitted question. To have your question answered for free, read through this post to the end!
Have you ever heard the news about women not knowing they’re pregnant until the time of labor and delivery? How come these pregnant women don’t feel the signs and symptoms of pregnancy? Does it actually happen in a real life scenario?
Understanding Cryptic Pregnancy
The above-mentioned questions all lead to a medical condition called “cryptic pregnancy”. A cryptic pregnancy is a condition wherein the woman shows very little or no symptoms of being pregnant. These women claim they still have their monthly periods and never experienced any signs or symptoms of getting pregnant.
When browsing the internet, you’ll encounter stories from physicians who had real-life encounters with patients arriving at the E.R. and complaining about abdominal pain. These women end up delivering full-term babies. Would you believe that these women didn’t have any idea that they are actually in labor?
According to the study, “The Evolutionary Biology of Cryptic Pregnancy: A Re-Appraisal of the Denied Pregnancy Phenomenon”, cryptic pregnancy has a much higher incidence than previously thought. This suggests the fact that it actually happens to a number of women across the globe.
What Causes Cryptic Pregnancy?
While the major underlying cause is yet to be found, there are certain theories to explain this condition.
1. Somatic Denial
This theory suggests that women experiencing cryptic pregnancy might already have the hindsight of what is actually happening in their body, yet they kept on denying it. Somatic, meaning the physical signs and symptoms that could be associated with pregnancy are consciously denied by the woman even if they are quite obvious and other people may notice them.
For example, the pregnant woman claims she doesn’t feel any fetal movements while the examining physician actually sees the baby moving. Another illustration is when the hospital releases an ultrasound report, and the mother claims she doesn’t see any baby in the picture.
Somatic denial can be attributed to some psychological concerns like problems with finances to support baby’s needs, and lack of family support to the current pregnancy.
2. Physiological Predisposition
There are also instances where the mother’s body actually shows very unrecognizable pregnancy symptoms so that she is totally unaware of what is happening. One good example is when the mother continuously has monthly periods. This is attributed to hormonal imbalance wherein there is a constant shedding of some parts of the uterine lining causing it to bleed each month. It also affects the levels of hCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin) in the blood and urine, revealing negative test results in pregnancy home kits and even blood lab tests. The fetus also develops at a slower rate, making it too small to reveal a “baby bump”.
Who Are Often Affected?
Women who fall in one of these categories may have an increased risk of cryptic pregnancy:
PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome): Women with PCOS have bizarre menstrual patterns due to hormonal imbalance making it harder to detect suspected pregnancy.
Obese or Malnourished: Very high body fat percentage masks the symptoms of pregnancy, while very low body fat affects the speed of the fetal development.
Peri-Menopausal Women: It refers to the onset of the signs and symptoms of menopause. A woman may think that she is already menopause and couldn’t get pregnant. However, she is actually in this transition stage and still ovulates in irregular patterns.
Use of Hormonal Birth Control Methods: This refers to women with transdermal patches or under injectable contraceptives. The continuous hormonal release may also conceal the signs and symptoms of pregnancy.
Cryptic Pregnancy FAQ
1. Are Cryptic Pregnancies Real?
Absolutely! It is estimated that one in every 475 pregnancies is at one point considered a cryptic pregnancy.
2. Are Cryptic Pregnancies Common?
This would depend on how you define ‘common.’ With one in 475 pregnancies deemed to be cryptic at some point in the pregnancy, this would lead to an estimated 347,000 cases each year, or just over 8,000 cases in the United States alone. Note that these numbers are only estimates and only take into account pregnancies that did not end in abortion. This is because the nature of a cryptic pregnancy may affect abortion rate during these pregnancies, and lead to inaccurate data.
3. Do You Still Form A Bump At All During A Cryptic Pregnancy?
It depends. In some cases, bumps are still formed, but appear more slowly. The bump may also be masked in women who are significantly overweight.
In other cases, the baby may be positioned so no visible bump appears. Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to this – many cryptic pregnancies have been delivered both with and without any sort of visible bump. A doctor may be able to give further insight, although not all cryptic pregnancies are detected even through standard medical tests – especially early on.
4. Can Cryptic Pregnancies Actually Last Years?
This seems to be a myth – however, there are people who truly believe they’ve been carrying their baby for several years or more. In truth, the world’s longest pregnancy lasted only (but still incredibly long) 375 days.
5. Are Cryptic Pregnancies Genetic / Hereditary?
It is not believed that cryptic pregnancies are genetic or hereditary. However, as far as we know, there have not been studies to confirm or deny this. Due to cryptic pregnancies being relatively unlikely for any individual person, performing a study on this would likely prove to be quite difficult.
In our search for an answer on this question, we also researched whether or not low hCG levels were genetic / hereditary (as these two things often go hand-in-hand,) and we could not find anything conclusive about this either.
6. Am I Experiencing A Cryptic Pregnancy?
Unfortunately, without a confirmation from a doctor it’s difficult to know for sure. Even in some cases where you have been checked by a doctor, performing standard medical tests, these tests might not indicate positive results, even when in fact you may actually be pregnant.
Our recommendation is to keep ongoing contact with your doctor, and try to stay calm in the meantime. While it’s certainly important to be prepared for a baby (and thus, knowing as early as possible is certainly a good thing,) many women often end up disappointed when they know for sure they were never pregnant in the first place.
Still, if you’re trying to conceive, there is no harm in continuing your efforts, regardless if whether or not you’re already pregnant.
Do you believe you’re experiencing a cryptic pregnancy? What other questions do you have? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section down below!
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I know at least 1 person who did not know until late pregnancy. For me however it was impossible not to know with how sick I have been with all of my pregnancies.
Sorry to hear about your difficult pregnancy, Trusylver. There are really cases like yours. It’s one of the great sacrifices of a mother to have a family. We just hope these sacrifices are appreciated, but as people say, a woman cannot fully appreciate and understand her mother’s love and sacrifice until she becomes a mother herself.
All i remember during my pregnancy was a 9 whole months of controlling myself not to drink coffee. I really really love coffee and my day was not complete if i don’t drink one. But ofcourse to make my baby boy healthy i disregard drinking it. His health is more precious than my favorite coffee.
That’s really sweet and thoughtful of you, Allyn Mae. A baby is worth all the sacrifice. A good and diligent mother truly thinks of her baby’s well-being first before her own.
I have never heard of this before. Cryptic pregnancy is really weird. I am glad it has no adverse health effects but living for 9 months without knowing you are pregnant can be really scary. Thanks for this educative post. 😀
I’ve heard stories about cryptic pregnancy but do not have actual knowledge of such a case. They say it does happen.
I just pity babies whose moms didn’t know they were pregnant and kept smoking and drinking. Plus she would never take the required supplements beneficial to the baby because she doesn’t know she’s having one 🙁