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What Is a Cryptic Pregnancy?

Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 27, 2022

While most women will experience many pregnancy signs and symptoms, there are rare cases where some women don’t have any symptoms at all.

If you are one of these rare few women, you might have a cryptic pregnancy. Cryptic pregnancy happens when a woman becomes pregnant but doesn’t know she is. She might not become aware she is pregnant until very late into her pregnancy or even at the time of birth.

How Can You Be Pregnant and Not Know?

For many women who have had children, it’s almost impossible to believe another woman can be pregnant and not know. The many not-so-pleasant symptoms, lack of periods, and weight gain are usually dead giveaways that your body is creating new life. 

If you’re one of the rare few, though, it’s possible to go through pregnancy and not know you’re having a baby. This can sometimes leave doctors as confused as you are, but there are several medical explanations for how cryptic pregnancies can happen.

You take birth control. If you take birth control or use contraception strictly and accurately, you might not think you may be pregnant. As far as contraception has come in modern times, it’s still not always 100% foolproof. Some types of birth control allow you to skip periods, which can make it even more difficult to know you’re pregnant.

You don’t have regular periods. One of the first and biggest signs of pregnancy for many women is a missed period. Things can become more tricky if your periods don’t always arrive like clockwork, though. If you are under a lot of stress, taking certain medications, or have other health issues like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), missing a period might not raise the same red flags.

You have some bleeding or intermittent spotting. In early pregnancy, implantation bleeding can happen about two weeks after conception when your future baby attaches to the side of your uterus. This bleeding can sometimes be mistaken for a period, especially for women that don’t bleed heavily. Even in a healthy pregnancy, some women will continue to have intermittent spotting and bleeding throughout pregnancy, which might also be mistaken for light periods.

You took a pregnancy test. Most home pregnancy test brands proudly advertise their high accuracy rates, but that doesn’t mean they’re never wrong. The tests work by detecting certain levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in your urine and it’s possible to get a false negative result. If you don’t follow the directions accurately or you take the test too early, you might not have enough hCG built up to get a positive result.

You don’t have any typical pregnancy signs or symptoms. Many women have a variety of telltale pregnancy symptoms starting very soon after conception. If you don’t have any of the normal early symptoms like cramping, nausea, vomiting, or breast tenderness, it’s possible not to know you’re pregnant. Even if you have mild morning sickness, you might simply write it off as a stomach bug or other temporary illness.

You don’t gain weight or have a pronounced baby bump. No two bodies are alike, and each woman will carry her weight differently. If you are a larger woman or you don’t gain a lot of weight as your pregnancy progresses you, might not know you’re pregnant. The same is true if you started dieting or working out early on during your pregnancy — you might lose weight instead of gain it.

You can’t feel the baby move. If your baby isn’t very active, you might not feel much fetal movement. An anterior placenta, or one that grows in the front of your uterus across your belly, might also make it more difficult to feel movement.

You have dealt with infertility or were told you can’t have children. Women who have had difficulty becoming pregnant in the past or have health conditions that cause infertility might not believe that they are pregnant. Older women might also think they're unable to get pregnant anymore or confuse pregnancy symptoms with the signs of menopause.

You just can’t believe it. Stress, fear, and shame can play a role in accepting or acknowledging pregnancy. If your pregnancy comes during a difficult time, you might not be aware. Denial can be powerful. Some women who are unexpectedly pregnant might simply refuse to consider it a possibility.

What Are Cryptic Pregnancy Symptoms?

Cryptic pregnancies are often defined by their complete lack of typical pregnancy signs and symptoms. Some women legitimately do not experience any symptoms, while others might have had mild pregnancy symptoms that they wrote off as something else.

If there is a possibility you could be pregnant, there are many typical signs that you should look for and know. Some common symptoms you shouldn’t ignore include:

How Often Do Cryptic Pregnancies Happen?

Each woman will experience pregnancy differently. Some women might suspect they’re pregnant soon after conception, while other women might not think about it until after they missed their first period or even months later.

Cryptic pregnancies happen very rarely. Research has shown that only around 1 in every 475 women will become pregnant and not know until they are past 20 weeks into their pregnancy. This number increases to 1 in 2500 women who don’t know they are pregnant until they are giving birth.

What Are the Outcomes of a Cryptic Pregnancy?

Having regular checkups and appropriate prenatal care helps keep both women and their babies healthy.

If you don’t know you are pregnant, you won’t get the health care you and your baby need. This puts you both at greater risk for several, potentially serious health problems.

Women with cryptic pregnancies are more likely to give birth outside of a hospital and without medical care. Giving birth unexpectedly can be a traumatic experience and cause mental health issues that will need to be worked through with professional help.

Like many babies whose mothers did not have access to prenatal care, babies born from cryptic pregnancies are more likely to be premature, underweight, or generally small for their gestational age. Babies from cryptic pregnancies also have an increased risk of stillbirth, infant death, and neglect.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “Can You Be Pregnant and Not Know It?” “Placenta,” “Pregnancy: Am I Pregnant?” “Pregnancy: Prenatal Care."

Mayo Clinic: "Is implantation bleeding normal in early pregnancy?" “Symptoms of pregnancy: What happens first.”

National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Denial of pregnancy — a literature review and discussion of ethical and legal issues,” “Not your average birth: considering the possibility of denied or concealed pregnancy,” “The evolutionary biology of cryptic pregnancy: A reappraisal of the “denied pregnancy” phenomenon.”

Stamford Health: “I Was Pregnant and Didn’t Know!”

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