Cryptic Pregnancy : 11 Causes, Symptoms and More

Pregnancy is usually obvious in expectant mothers. You put on weight, your baby bump gets bigger, you develop symptoms like morning sickness, exhaustion, and backaches, and you feel those sweet kicks. However, in some women, a condition known as a cryptic pregnancy prevents them from realizing they are pregnant.

A cryptic pregnancy,” also known as astealth pregnancy or a denied pregnancy,” is when a woman becomes pregnant but doesn’t realize it (or denies it) until giving birth. Common medical diagnostic techniques could miss the pregnancy. Although they are rare, stealth pregnancies are not unheard of either.

They might not have symptoms, such as no baby bump or minor pregnancy symptoms1 that are simple to ignore. Others could not be aware of their pregnancy because of a mental health illness or other health problem that either makes them hide pregnancy symptoms or deny the gestation or the probability of being pregnant in the first place.

Frequently, women with cryptic pregnancy don’t experience standard signs of pregnancy like:

  • Nausea
  • Missed periods
  • Abdominal enlargement

The woman’s gestation may be unknown to her doctors and family members.

The absence of prenatal care may impact the development of babies delivered from cryptic pregnancies because they are frequently underweight.

Doctors categorize most cryptic pregnancies as psychotic or nonpsychotic.

The 2011 peer-reviewed studies found that women with psychotic denial of pregnancy may also suffer from mental diseases such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Although they might experience pregnancy symptoms, they might attribute them to irrational reasons.

Nonpsychotic denial in women2 is characterized by a healthy sense of reality and a lack of a history of mental illness.

cryptic pregnancy
Photo by Camila Quintero Franco on Unsplash/Copyright 2019

Doctors distinguish three forms of nonpsychotic cryptic pregnancy:

  • Pervasive
  • Affective
  • Persistent

Women who have pervasive denial of pregnancy3 feel no emotional connection to being pregnant and are unaware of it.

Although pregnant women who suffer from affective denial of their condition acknowledge their condition, they do not emotionally or physically prepare for gestation, childbirth, and parenthood.

According to medical professionals, women who consistently deny their pregnancies become aware of them in the third trimester and choose not to seek medical care.

According to research, widespread denial affects 36%, persistent denial affects 11%, and affective denial affects 52% of women with cryptic pregnancies.

The causes, symptoms, and indicators of a cryptic pregnancy4 are discussed in this article. It also discusses the difficulties of a cryptic pregnancy5 and how to handle one.

1. Causes of Cryptic Pregnancies

Although it seems unlikely, cryptic pregnancies occur more frequently than you might imagine—about 1 in every 475 pregnancies.

Many people think someone can’t be pregnant without knowing it. The dearth of conversation and investigation on the subject keeps people from becoming aware of this unusual but actual circumstance. It furthers the stigma associated with cryptic pregnancies.

The standard symptoms of gestation that most expectant mothers experience are frequently absent in women with cryptic pregnancies. And even if they do, they are unaware of what they are.

Morning sickness and stomach swelling are typically absent in women with cryptic pregnancies or are barely noticeable. They might not gain or only gain a little bit of weight and might blame something else for it.

cryptic pregnancy
Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay/Copyright 2014

As for the absence of their periods, they don’t think it’s strange either, either because they typically have irregular periods or because they’ve taken birth control pills or injections that have made them sporadic or nonexistent.

And if they do see fetal movement, they dismiss it as gas or a general upset stomach.

Researchers traditionally believed that women with cryptic pregnancies often had one or more of the following characteristics, according to the literature:

  • Younger age
  • Learning disabilities
  • Inadequate family and social support
  • Mental disorders
  • Previous drug use

It appears that there are currently no definite signs of cryptic pregnancy.

The research presently suggests that the majority of women having cryptic pregnancies are:

  • Have other children
  • Are in their 20s
  • Have supportive friends and families

Only a small percentage have psychological illnesses, drug addiction, or low intelligence.

Pregnancy denial can occur in otherwise healthy women due to external stresses and mental or emotional issues surrounding the gestation.

A single factor cannot explain a cryptic pregnancy. However, scientists believe that some of the following circumstances may play a role in a person’s failure to recognize their gestation.

1.1. Absence of Pregnant Symptoms

Not everyone experiences common symptoms like nausea, pelvic cramping, weight gain, lower back pain, and a larger abdomen. Additionally, each individual may experience pregnancy symptoms of varying degrees and on various dates.

1.2. Irregular Menstrual Cycle

If your periods are irregular, it may be difficult to tell if you have missed a period. This is particularly valid if your cycle lasts longer than the typical 28 days. The lack of a period may not immediately indicate gestation in someone who may not have as many periods per year.

1.3. Intermittent Spotting

Spotting and bleeding that might happen during gestation can easily be mistaken for a light period.

1.4. Age and Fertility

Early menopausal symptoms and typical pregnancy symptoms can be similar. It could be difficult for you to accept that you are pregnant if you have previously had difficulty getting pregnant.

1.5. Results of a Pregnancy Test that are Inaccurate

Pregnancy tests are typically quite accurate, but mistakes can occur, especially if someone does not test properly or at the right time. A test may come out negative even if the subject is indeed expecting.

1.6. No Obvious “Baby Bump”

A pregnant belly might not be noticeable if a person has more weight in their abdomen. Some women don’t begin to show or gain weight until much later in gestation.

1.7. Not Feeling the Baby Move

It may occasionally be difficult to sense fetal movement due to the placement of the fetus and placenta. For instance, the placenta is in the front of the uterus when it is placed anteriorly. Fetal movement may be harder to detect and take longer to feel.

1.8. PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

PCOS can lead to hormonal imbalances that interfere with ovulation. This could result in an unplanned gestation that goes unnoticed.

1.9. Usage of Birth Control

It is still possible to get pregnant when using birth control, even when done properly. When utilizing contraception, a person could not consider that they could be pregnant and dismiss the symptoms.

1.10. Recent Gestation

After giving birth, ovulation can happen earlier than you might expect. However, a woman who recently gave birth might also be unable to recognize the early signs of gestation.6

1.11. Mental Health Conditions

According to some studies, several mental health conditions make it more difficult for sufferers to understand and accept that they are pregnant. They might not be aware that they are pregnant or be in denial about it.

2. Risk Factors

Signs & symptoms of Cryptic Pregnancy? - Dr. Punyavathi C. Nagaraj

Even though they may be aware of their symptoms, pregnant women with psychiatric problems may dismiss them as unimportant or attribute them to other factors.

In other women without mental problems, pregnancy-related stress and conflicts might cause stealth pregnancy.

Due to their inability to distinguish common characteristics, doctors have yet to identify risk factors for cryptic pregnancy.

3. Symptoms

Typical pregnancy signs and symptoms are frequently completely absent in denied pregnancy. Some women genuinely don’t have any signs, while others may have had slight symptoms of pregnancy that they mistook for something else.

There are numerous common symptoms of pregnancy to look for and be aware of if you think you might be pregnant. Common signs that you shouldn’t disregard include:

  • Missed period
  • Breast tenderness
  • Light bleeding
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating or abdominal swelling
  • Cramping
  • Constipation
  • Urinating frequently
  • Congestion
  • Sudden food desires or aversions
monika kozub 95 cYFObGH0 unsplash 1
Photo by Monika Kozub on Unsplash/Copyright 2020

A person might not have given these pregnancy symptoms much thought if they existed but were not severe. For instance, many dismissed nausea and vomiting of gestation as indigestion or missed periods as an abnormal menstrual cycle.

Even though a person may be pregnant, they are not encouraged to take a urine test or consult their healthcare provider if they dismiss pregnancy symptoms.

4. Duration of Cryptic Pregnancies

The duration of a denied or concealed pregnancy varies depending on the source. It is challenging to get statistics on this issue since women who are unaware that they are pregnant can only provide you with the date when their pregnancy terminated, not the starting date.

According to anecdotal evidence, cryptic pregnancy lasts longer than regular pregnancies. This may be because they begin with extremely low hormone levels.

On the other side, it can also be argued that not receiving prenatal care, eating poorly, and making lifestyle decisions. At the same time, being unaware of one’s pregnancy may raise the likelihood of premature birth.

There isn’t much reliable information to help us understand how a cryptic pregnancy can differ in length.

5. How Frequently Do Cryptic Pregnancies Take Place?

Pregnancy is a unique experience for every woman. While some women may become aware of their pregnancy as soon as conception, others might not until they miss their period for the first time or even months later.

Rarely do cryptic pregnancies occur. According to research, only about 1 in every 475 women will become pregnant and not realize it until they are more than 20 weeks along. The proportion of women who discover they are pregnant after delivery rises to 1 in 2500.

6. Despite a Negative Pregnancy Test: What To Do?

Despite a negative home pregnancy test, women who are certain they are pregnant should consult their doctor or another healthcare professional.

A blood test is the most precise and accurate test available. Doctors will examine the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the blood. A hormone that the placenta secretes is called HCG.

7. Reasons for False Negative Results

The outcomes of at-home urine tests are usually accurate if the instructions are followed exactly.

Pregnancy tests can be falsely negative if the test is administered too soon in early pregnancy, diluted urine is used, or the findings are checked too soon.

Certain drugs can also cause false-positive results from pregnancy tests. Even though a woman is not pregnant, the test results are positive.

Certain medications that have an impact on pregnancy test outcomes include:

  • Promethazine
  • Parkinson’s medication
  • Medicine to reduce anxiety
  • The use of antipsychotic drugs
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Diuretics
  • Fertility drugs

Pregnancy test sensitivity can vary from test to test, and some brands are less accurate than others. The sensitivity of the at-home urine pregnancy test should be disclosed on the packaging.

A woman should test her pee again in a few days if she thinks she is pregnant, but the test results are negative. She should consult a physician and ask for blood tests if the result is still unfavourable.

Pregnancy tests and even ultrasounds may come back negative if you’re going through a cryptic pregnancy. The reasons why will vary depending on the circumstances, but generally speaking, the following holds:

  • If you have PCOS, have just given birth, are very active or athletic, or have missed or skipped periods.
  • If you fall into one of these groups, your chances of having variable hormone levels are higher. The gestational hormone, hCG, may not collect in a way that is significant enough to result in a positive result on a home test if your uterus is still at least partially shedding or if you don’t receive your period regularly.
  • If your ultrasound was not conclusive

If an ultrasound is not looking in the appropriate spot, it may even fail to detect a developing fetus (as in the case of an ectopic pregnancy). It’s also likely that an ultrasound technician won’t spend a lot of time looking for a developing fetus if prior testing has revealed that you are not pregnant.

Despite a negative pregnancy test, if you’re allowed to obtain an ultrasound, it’s possible that a gestation won’t be detected in the first trimester due to:

  • An irregularity in where the embryo is implanted
  • The shape of your uterus
  • An error on the part of the ultrasound technician.

8. When To Consult a Doctor

Any woman who exhibits common pregnancy symptoms should see a doctor to confirm the diagnosis.

Pregnant women need prenatal care, and doctors may suggest food and lifestyle changes to support a healthy pregnancy and unborn child.

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Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Unsplash/Copyright 2021

9. Cryptic Pregnancy Concerns

Failing to recognize gestation can harm the fetus and the expectant mother for even a brief period. A person won’t receive the prenatal care required for a safe and healthy pregnancy if they are unaware that they are pregnant.

Additionally, they won’t undergo the customary prenatal tests. Without those tests, a healthcare provider cannot make key decisions regarding the pregnant person’s or the fetus’s health.

Without that testing, major problems like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and high blood pressure (hypertension) could go undetected.

A person could not be aware that they are in labour if cryptic pregnancy continues right up until the moment of delivery. They might even have to deliver the baby alone and unaided if they don’t make it to a hospital.

According to research, infants born during stealth pregnancy may be more likely to be underweight than an average birth-weight baby and may be born early.

Damage to the fetus could result in birth problems if a person drank alcohol, used tobacco, or took certain drugs while unaware that they were pregnant.

10. Complications

Regular checkups and proper prenatal care are important for the health of both the pregnant person and their unborn children.

You won’t get the medical attention you and your unborn child need if you don’t realize you’re pregnant. Your chances of developing several, possibly major health issues are increased.

Medical professionals are more likely to identify pregnancy as the cryptic pregnancy develops. By the time active labour starts, the prevalence of denied pregnancy drops from 1 in 475 to 1 in 2500.

Women who have cryptic pregnancies may not be aware of being pregnant until later in the pregnancy, which could lead to mental problems.

Due to their lack of preparation, women with cryptic pregnancies may deliver independently without medical assistance.

The baby is at risk for preterm if the mother denies her pregnancy and its problems.

11. How Does it Affect Labour?

Women who have been refused pregnancies may give birth on their own unexpectedly.

Both mother and child may be in danger during unassisted deliveries.

According to medical professionals, potentially fatal complications might occur in up to 15% of births. In addition, difficulties during childbirth claim the lives of almost 500,000 women worldwide.

12. Is Special Care Necessary for a Baby Born After a Cryptic Pregnancy?

A doctor will need to examine the babies born to see whether they require any special care. He or she will look at the newborn’s health indicators such as size, condition, and Apgar score.

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Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash/Copyright 2017

While expectant mothers who are unaware that they are pregnant can still give birth to healthy children, it is always preferable to receive great prenatal care to reduce the risks and boost the likelihood of a healthy kid. Call your doctor if you experience any strange symptoms, weight gain, or period changes.

13. The Takeaway

Despite being rare and misunderstood, cryptic pregnancy is a true disorder. If you think you might be pregnant, you should know that most pregnancies can be detected using standard first-trimester testing techniques, including blood, urine, and ultrasounds.

Discuss your situation with a trusted doctor if you have pregnancy symptoms following a negative result from a home pregnancy test. It won’t harm your baby to wait a week or two to see if your symptoms go away but don’t put off getting help for months.

Keep in mind that resources are available if you’re struggling or feel like you simply cannot manage to be pregnant.

Click here to know more.

  1. Rodriguez, Alina, Gunilla Bohlin, and Gunilla Lindmark. “Symptoms across pregnancy in relation to psychosocial and biomedical factors.” Acta obstetricia et gynecologica Scandinavica 80.3 (2001): 213-213. ↩︎
  2. Neifert, Paige L., and James A. Bourgeois. “Denial of pregnancy: a case study and literature review.” Military Medicine 165.7 (2000): 566-568. ↩︎
  3. Chechko, Natalia, Elena Losse, and Susanne Stickel. “A case report involving the experience of pervasive pregnancy denial: detailed observation of the first 12 postpartum weeks.” BMC psychiatry 22.1 (2022): 774. ↩︎
  4. Li, Shuo, et al. “Identification of cryptic balanced translocations in couples with unexplained recurrent pregnancy loss based upon embryonic PGT-A results.” Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics 41.1 (2024): 171-184. ↩︎
  5. Del Giudice, Marco. “The evolutionary biology of cryptic pregnancy: A re-appraisal of the “denied pregnancy” phenomenon.” Medical hypotheses 68.2 (2007): 250-258. ↩︎
  6. Montgomery, William Fetherston Haugh. An exposition of the signs and symptoms of pregnancy: the period of human gestation, and the signs of delivery. Vol. 3. A. Waldie, 1839. ↩︎

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