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, it is like other pregnancies but with one difference.
What is cryptic pregnancy?
Cryptic pregnancies are more or less the same as regular pregnancies. There’s just one big difference.
The woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant until halfway through the pregnancy.
Other names for cryptic pregnancy are’ hidden pregnancy’, ‘stealth pregnancy’, ‘denied pregnancy’ or ‘undetected pregnancy’.
Research suggests that 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 labor.
At any point between those times, the pregnancy is considered cryptic.
The women are pregnant – just like any other pregnant woman; 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 9 signs can be present during cryptic pregnancies:
- Lack of menstrual period
- Pregnancy nausea or sickness
- Feeling the baby move
- Back pain
- Leg pain
- Swollen legs or ankles
- Larger breasts and breast tenderness
- Slight weight gain.
In other words, symptoms experienced during a denied or concealed pregnancy can be the symptoms typically experienced by women during a normal healthy pregnancy.
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 cryptic pregnancies.
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?
A woman has a 25% chance of missing her period. If a ‘period’ is present during cryptic pregnancies, it’s not a genuine period but might appear to be one.
The likelihood of a woman experiencing morning sickness during a stealth pregnancy is also around 25%.
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 cryptic pregnancies than during normal pregnancies.
What causes a cryptic pregnancy?
Obviously, a woman who experiences a cryptic pregnancy becomes pregnant in the same way any other woman does – that is, as a result of:
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI)
- In vitro fertilisation (IVF)
- Other alternative methods.
The difference is that she doesn’t know she’s pregnant.
Reasons a woman might not know she’s pregnant:
- Lack of pregnancy symptoms
- Continual appearance of period-like bleeding or intermittent spotting
- Obesity (which hides weight gain)
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Not gaining any weight
- Long torso (which hides the placement of the baby)
- Placement of baby (making it less externally visible)
- Position of the placenta (which means she doesn’t feel the baby’s movements)
- Psychological problems. Poor mental health conditions can lead to many women not knowing they’re pregnant
- The recent birth of another baby. It’s not uncommon for women who recently gave birth to mistake pregnancy symptoms for postpartum life – especially when women are breastfeeding and haven’t got their periods back yet
- Different routine from usual
- Higher levels of stress (which draw her attention elsewhere)
- Lack of a baby bump
- Negative home pregnancy test. Sometimes there is a false negative result or a negative test at the very beginning of the pregnancy. A urine test is less reliable than a blood test. It’s very unlikely to get a false negative result with blood tests
- Being on birth control.
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.
Research suggests that 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 administered by a doctor can miss a pregnancy if other health problems are present.
How long does cryptic pregnancy last?
Denied pregnancy is characterized as a pregnancy that is 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 labor.
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 are 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 labor 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 labor. In those cases, the cryptic pregnancy could be 40 weeks or longer.
That means a cryptic pregnancy can last between 20 and 40 weeks.
Can you get your period with a cryptic pregnancy?
Although the short answer is ‘No, you can’t get your period while pregnant’, having regular vaginal bleeding or spotting might be one of the main reasons why some women experience a concealed pregnancy. As the woman is having some kind of bleeding, the biology of cryptic pregnancy progresses, while the woman is totally unaware of her pregnancy.
A woman might have very few symptoms of pregnancy or, even if she has them, she might dismiss pregnancy symptoms because of her vaginal bleeding.
To find out more about this, read BellyBelly’s article Early Pregnancy Bleeding | How Much Bleeding Is Normal?
Cryptic pregnancy baby position
I’ve been reviewing the literature written on the baby’s positioning in cryptic pregnancies and although I haven’t been able to find a specific study on this exact topic, research suggests that the baby’s position might play an important role in a woman not realizing she is pregnant.
It seems that babies that present in the breech position are more likely to go all the way to full term unnoticed. At the time of birth, breech babies make up around 3% of total presentations. Of the cases I’ve been able to find, breech births in cryptic pregnancies go over 40%.
Cryptic pregnancy baby movement
We know that fetal movement – feeling your baby move and kick – is usually a key part of being pregnant.
For a woman to be unaware she’s pregnant might be easier to understand with regard to the most common pregnancy symptoms. Some women might be lucky and have very few, if any, symptoms of pregnancy during early pregnancy. But as the baby grows and starts kicking and moving in the uterus, how is it possible to miss that? At the end of the day, a cryptic pregnancy, like any other, lasts the whole ten moons.
If babies are in an uncommon position, however, it’s much easier for the pregnant woman to miss the baby’s movements or feel them so mildly she thinks it might be something else.
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