Pregnancy is a time of change. You’re making plans and feeling new emotions.
There are positive pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, early symptoms to ponder, and baby clothes to buy.
For most women, it’s an exciting time of expectation.
However, not all women have the same experience of pregnancy.
You might have heard of a cryptic pregnancy, but you might not know what it is.
In many ways, a cryptic pregnancy is like other pregnancies, with one difference.
What exactly is a cryptic pregnancy?
What is cryptic pregnancy?
A cryptic pregnancy is more or less the same as a regular pregnancy. There’s just one big difference.
The woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant until half way through the pregnancy.
Other names for cryptic pregnancy are hidden pregnancy, stealth pregnancy, denied pregnancy, or undetected pregnancy.
Studies suggest cryptic pregnancies make up between 1 in 425 and 1 in 2,500 pregnancies.
The point at which pregnancies are considered cryptic is 20 weeks.
If the woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant by 20 weeks, she’s experiencing a cryptic pregnancy.
She might find out she’s pregnant at 20 weeks, or she might find out when she goes into labour.
At any point between those times, the pregnancy is considered cryptic.
The women are pregnant – just like any other pregnant women: they just don’t know they are.
Signs of cryptic pregnancy
One of the biggest reasons for stealth pregnancies is the woman has a monthly period or irregular bleeding.
This usually makes her think she’s not pregnant.
Most women also report they didn’t have morning sickness.
These signs can be present during a cryptic pregnancy:
- Lack of period
- Pregnancy nausea or sickness
- Feeling the baby move
- Back pain
- Leg pain
- Swollen legs or ankles
- Larger breasts
- Weight gain.
In other words, symptoms experienced during a hidden pregnancy can be the symptoms typically experienced by women during a normal pregnancy.
So what makes a cryptic pregnancy different?
How do you know if you have a cryptic pregnancy?
Although the symptoms above are common in a normal pregnancy, they’re far less common in a cryptic pregnancy.
That’s why a woman is less likely to know she’s pregnant.
Women who experience a cryptic pregnancy are less likely to experience pregnancy symptoms.
They might not gain any weight or feel the baby move if the placenta is at the front.
Keep reading for the reasons that women might not know they’re pregnant.
Do you get periods with a cryptic pregnancy?
The likelihood of a woman experiencing morning sickness during a stealth pregnancy is around 25%.
She also has a 25% chance of missing her period. If a ‘period’ is present during a cryptic pregnancy, it’s not a genuine period but might appear to be one.
These rates are lower than in the average pregnancy, which has:
- more than 75% likelihood of missed periods during pregnancy
- 70% likelihood of morning sickness.
The chances of women showing pregnancy symptoms are much lower during a cryptic pregnancy than during a normal pregnancy.
What causes a cryptic pregnancy?
Obviously, a woman who experiences a cryptic pregnancy becomes pregnant in the same way any other woman does:
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI)
- In vitro fertilisation (IVF)
- Other alternative methods.
The difference is that she doesn’t know she’s pregnant.
Things that can cause a woman not to know she’s pregnant:
- Lack of pregnancy symptoms
- Continual appearance of period-like bleeding
- Obesity (which hides weight gain)
- Not gaining any weight
- Long torso (which hides placement of the baby)
- Placement of baby (making it less externally visible)
- Position of placenta (which means she doesn’t feel the baby’s movements)
- Psychological problems
- Recent birth of another baby
- Different routine than usual
- Higher levels of stress (which lead her attention elsewhere)
- Lack of a baby bump.
In some cases, women who have low body fat won’t show the pregnancy because they’re very fit and have strong abs, which hold the baby in.
Some studies suggest denial is the most likely cause of a cryptic pregnancy.
If a woman doesn’t want to be pregnant, she might chalk her symptoms up to other things.
Feeling the baby move, for example, can be excused as feeling organs move back into place after the recent birth of another baby.
Missing periods can be excused if the woman is going through a more stressful time or is near menopause.
Missed periods can also be excused if the woman usually has irregular periods.
Even blood or urine tests administrated by a doctor can miss a pregnancy if other health problems are present.
How long does cryptic pregnancy last?
Denied pregnancy is characterised as a pregnancy not detected until at least 20 weeks.
After 20 weeks, the pregnancy might be detected.
If the woman has been experiencing a stressful time, she might notice she’s skipped a few periods or she’s gained some weight.
She could also notice other typical pregnancy symptoms.
Although it’s rare, in some cases a pregnancy is undetected until the woman goes into labour.
The likelihood of a woman discovering she’s pregnant only as she’s giving birth is about 1 in 2,500.
It’s about 6 times more likely for women to detect the pregnancy before they’re full term.
Can ultrasound detect cryptic pregnancy?
Pregnancy can be missed on ultrasound if the pregnancy is early.
It’s much less likely to be missed if the pregnancy is past 20 weeks.
Ultrasound is very likely to pick up a pregnancy past 20 weeks.
If the woman goes into labour without knowing she’s pregnant, the hospital might perform an ultrasound to find the source of her pain.
At this point, the ultrasound would detect the baby and discover the pregnancy.
Proof of cryptic pregnancy
Because it’s possible to get a negative pregnancy test result, even at advanced stages of pregnancy, the best way to confirm cryptic pregnancy is by ultrasound.
If you suspect pregnancy, even though you have no symptoms, ask your doctor for an appointment.
Your doctor should be familiar with cryptic pregnancies and will know how to determine whether or not you are pregnant.
Longest cryptic pregnancy
A cryptic pregnancy is any pregnancy not detected until after 20 weeks.
Some women aren’t aware they’re pregnant until they go into labour.
In this case, the cryptic pregnancy could be 40 weeks or longer.
That means a cryptic pregnancy can last between 20 and 40 weeks.
How is cryptic pregnancy delivered?
In most ways, cryptic pregnancies are the same as normal pregnancies.
The biggest difference is the woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant.
She often hasn’t had any symptoms of pregnancy or she hasn’t recognised them as pregnancy symptoms.
Whether she discovers the pregnancy at 20 weeks or later, it can cause complications.
Good prenatal care is essential for the health of the mother and the baby.
During a cryptic pregnancy, there’s a lack of prenatal care because the pregnancy hasn’t been detected.
This can cause complications for delivery if the baby or the mother has problems that need attention.
Some of the possible problems are:
- Large baby
- Gestational diabetes
- Cholestasis of pregnancy
- High blood pressure
- Preterm labour.
If any of these are present during a cryptic pregnancy, the birth could be more complicated and require more care.
Certain cases could lead to an emergency c-section.
If there are no problems with the mother or the baby, labour and birth are likely to be normal.
How to detect a cryptic pregnancy
Do you suspect you’re experiencing a cryptic pregnancy?
Maybe you’ve had some pregnancy symptoms or missed a few periods but you are getting negative pregnancy tests.
Or perhaps you’ve had no symptoms of pregnancy but your intuition is telling you something’s happening in your body.
If you suspect you’re pregnant but aren’t getting a positive pregnancy test, it’s important to see your healthcare provider.
Your healthcare provider can investigate and determine whether you’re pregnant or not.
There could also be other medical reasons for what you’re experiencing.
Either way, it’s important to be checked out, to find out what’s going on.
Most cryptic pregnancies are caused by denial.
If you’re pregnant, the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is to get good prenatal care. Support from an specialist counsellor can help you to come to terms with your pregnancy.
What conditions can mimic pregnancy symptoms?
You can experience symptoms that might seem to be pregnancy related but aren’t. The causes of these symptoms can vary, but include:
- Low blood sugar
- Viral infections
- Certain medications
- Thyroid problems
- Certain diseases related to the ovaries or kidneys.
Always speak to your healthcare provider if you experience persistent symptoms related to pregnancy but you aren’t pregnant.
It’s important not to confuse cryptic pregnancy with phantom pregnancy.
Phantom pregnancy mimics pregnancy symptoms but there’s no baby present.
Cryptic pregnancy is less likely to show pregnancy symptoms but there is a baby present.
The best way to find out whether you’re experiencing one of these is to ask your doctor.