It may be difficult to understand how someone can be pregnant and not know it. Even before a positive test, pregnancy can be accompanied by many signs and symptoms. But for some, a cryptic or unperceived pregnancy becomes a reality. Why does this happen, and what are the risks?
A cryptic pregnancy occurs when someone is pregnant and does not realize it.
There are several reasons why someone may not realize they are pregnant.
Cryptic pregnancies can pose risks for the pregnant parent and developing baby.
It is essential for all sexually active people to be aware of early signs of pregnancy.
What is a cryptic pregnancy?
A cryptic or unperceived pregnancy is when a person does not realize they are pregnant. This can also be called pregnancy denial. The pregnant person may not know they are pregnant until the pregnancy has significantly progressed (1 in 475 pregnancies) or, in some instances until labor begins (1 in 2,500 pregnancies).
Pregnancy is generally accompanied by many signs and symptoms. However, for those who experience a cryptic pregnancy, the signs and symptoms of pregnancy do not occur, are not recognized, or are attributed to another illness or condition.
Causes of a cryptic pregnancy
It may be hard to believe that a pregnancy can be missed, but several health situations make an unperceived pregnancy a reasonable occurrence.
Irregular periods or amenorrhea
Regular menstrual cycles usually last 23 to 35 days. Many menstruating people experience irregular periods, which can come early or late. Some menstruating people experience amenorrhea (the absence of a period). Inconsistent or absent menstruation can make predicting or perceiving a pregnancy much more difficult.
After the delivery of a baby, it may take some time to reestablish the menstrual cycle, especially during breastfeeding. A postpartum and breastfeeding parent may mistake the onset of pregnancy symptoms for typical postpartum symptoms.
History of infertility
A history of infertility or frequent miscarriages may cause the hopefully expectant parent to believe that they cannot achieve a pregnancy, and they may not realize they are pregnant.
Polycystic ovary syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most significant causes of infertility. PCOS generally results in irregular or missed periods due to lack of ovulation, making it more difficult to perceive a pregnancy.
The beginnings of menopause can include irregular periods and other symptoms that may be mistaken for this new stage in life, not a pregnancy. Some may also believe they are too old to get pregnant.
Birth control use
Birth control use provides mental reassurance that pregnancy will not happen. However, even when used correctly, birth control can still fail. Additionally, some birth control methods may result in significantly shorter or no periods, making pregnancy identification more challenging.
Other lifestyle situations
Several studies have shown that those who have experienced a cryptic pregnancy may fall into several demographic categories, including younger age, first-time pregnancy, lower levels of education, single relationship status, lack of or inconsistent work, and suffering from depression or other psychiatric illness. It is also possible that someone may not have any pregnancy symptoms or that they had a false negative pregnancy test.
Risks of a cryptic pregnancy
The most significant risk to a cryptic pregnancy is the lack of prenatal care. If you do not know you are pregnant, you have missed out on bloodwork, ultrasounds, nutritional advice, and healthy pregnancy counseling. Lack of prenatal care also means you have not been evaluated for serious pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes. Studies have shown that cryptic pregnancies more often result in preterm birth, which can significantly impact your newborn, depending on the gestational age.
Suppose you do not realize that you are pregnant. In that case, you may continually engage in unhealthy activities for you and your developing baby, including alcohol consumption or drug use. These behaviors can have detrimental effects on your newborn and the health of your pregnancy. Of course, cryptic pregnancies can also result in very healthy, unaffected newborns, especially if the pregnant parent has a balanced lifestyle.
How do I know if I have a cryptic pregnancy?
Do you think you may be pregnant? Below are the most common signs and symptoms of pregnancy. If you suspect you are pregnant, take a pregnancy test and consult your obstetric provider.
Symptoms of pregnancy
Physical symptoms of a cryptic pregnancy are the same as a typical pregnancy. The pregnant person may not realize that these symptoms are caused by pregnancy.
- Spotting or light bleeding
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Swollen, tender, or growing breasts
- Weight gain or bloated belly
- Missed period
- Mood swings
- Frequent urination
- Fetal movement
Some people may miss these signs of pregnancy because they are unaware of pregnancy signs and symptoms.
Coping with an unplanned pregnancy
Discovering that you are pregnant when you were not expecting, planning, or wanting it can be distressing and shocking. Here are some strategies to cope with the news:
- Recognize your fears and doubts about the situation.
- Allow yourself to feel all of the emotions.
- Discover your resources and accept help.
- Find non-judgmental support.
- Take time to process the news.
- Evaluate all of your options.
A cryptic pregnancy can be a scary and overwhelming experience, especially if you are the one who is unexpectedly pregnant. If you suspect you may be pregnant or in labor, you must contact your healthcare provider immediately to receive competent care for yourself and your baby.
- British journal of obstetrics and gynecology. Pregnancy denial: a complex symptom with life context as a trigger? A prospective case-control study.
- Hopeline Pregnancy Center. Coping with an unplanned pregnancy.
- Cleveland Clinic. Cryptic pregnancy.
- Journal on psychosomatic obstetrics and gynecology. Discovering a pregnancy after 30 weeks: a qualitative study on explanations for unperceived pregnancy.
- National institute of child health and human development. What are some common signs of pregnancy?
Show all references
- Centers for disease control and prevention. Polycystic ovarian syndrome.