I admit it! One of my guilty pleasures is a TV show called I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.
The show features true stories about women who experienced symptoms they thought were severe indigestion or appendicitis.
Then they discover they’re actually pregnant – while in labour with a full term baby!
I find these stories fascinating because my pregnancies were really obvious from the very beginning.
From the morning sickness, to missed periods, to a growing belly, and jarring kicks from the inside, my babies announced their presence clearly.
For many people, it’s hard to imagine how a pregnancy could remain hidden for such a long time.
What’s the longest someone didn’t know she was pregnant?
Surprisingly, it’s possible for a woman to find out she’s pregnant at full term – sometimes even at the moment of birth.
Some estimates say one in 2,500 women make it all the way to labour before they realise a baby is coming.
It’s so rare, though, that this type of case often winds up becoming a media sensation.
Woman didn’t know she was pregnant until giving birth
Australian model Erin Langmaid, 23, discovered her pregnancy only minutes before giving birth on her bathroom floor.
Erin said she wasn’t feeling well on the day of the birth, but didn’t know why.
The intense arrival of baby Isla lasted only about 10 minutes. The baby girl was 3.7kg (8lb), at an estimated 37 weeks gestation.
Erin’s partner, Dan, recounted the story to 7News: “I heard a scream and I went in there and then I saw the little one and I thought, hang on, there’s two”.
Dan called emergency services, who asked how far along the mother was. “We don’t know,” Dan reportedly answered. “We didn’t know she was pregnant.”
The emergency operator talked Dan through what he needed to do to make sure the baby was breathing properly.
Mother and baby recovered well from the dramatic incident.
Photos posted to Erin’s Instagram account in the weeks leading up to the birth don’t reveal any visible changes to Erin’s shape.
She was taking contraceptive injections and hadn’t considered pregnancy as a possibility.
“I wasn’t showing, obviously, because I fit into everything. It’s just really bizarre”, she told 7News.
How late do you normally find out you’re pregnant?
By using sensitive home pregnancy tests, it’s possible to confirm pregnancy as early as eight days after conception.
The availability of these tests, as well as telltale physical changes in the pregnant person’s body, make it likely most people will discover they’re pregnant within the first trimester.
There are still plenty of stories about babies who skipped early detection and were discovered further along in pregnancy.
BellyBelly readers shared some stories of their own:
“My friend was 3 weeks off delivery when she found out. She was on a lot of medications at the time.
“She only found out as she was booked for a hysterectomy, and they couldn’t operate as her baby was nearly due. Eeek!
“She only put on 2kgs, and was told her period would stop due to her medications so she was none the wiser”. (Danita)
“I knew around 4-6weeks with mine, but I have a friend who thought she had appendicitis and ended up delivering her daughter, lol”. (Dianne)
“My own mum didn’t have her last pregnancy confirmed until she was 20weeks. She was 38 and she thought she was starting to go through menopause”. (Trillian)
“At work recently, a 48-year old found out she was pregnant when she was around 20 weeks.
“The doctor told her she must have ovarian cancer, and raced her for an emergency scan, but it turned out the abnormal growth was a baby”. (Mildez)
“6 months. I’m not going to go into the hows and whys here, because it was quite traumatic for me, but I can completely understand how some people don’t know for the entire time”. (Tinks)
“16 weeks! I know ’cause I was with her for her scan. We were expecting a peanut on the screen and lol we were certainly surprised”. (Beatrix)
How is it possible for pregnancy to go undetected?
Every pregnant body is different, and some feel and show symptoms more than others.
It’s still shocking to know a woman can carry an almost 4kg baby inside without realising it.
Here are the 5 most obvious symptoms of pregnancy and why they might not show up:
#1: Missed period
Most women suspect they might be pregnant when their menstrual cycle is disrupted and their period doesn’t show up.
Some women, however, don’t notice they haven’t had a period.
This is especially true if they experience irregular or absent periods due to hormonal changes, stress, menopause, or for other reasons.
Some women have spotting that can be mistaken for a period.
In rare cases, some women continue to bleed around the time of their normal menstrual cycle, throughout pregnancy.
This is not a normal occurrence. Persistent bleeding during pregnancy always warrants a call to your healthcare provider.
Heather Hack-Sullivan, midwife and BellyBelly writer, says:
”I had a midwife friend who had some bleeding in very early pregnancy and assumed she’d experienced a miscarriage.
“Several weeks later I convinced her to let me examine her and found a heartbeat!
“I’ve also had a client who had monthly bleeding, like a cycle, so didn’t discover she was pregnant until halfway through the pregnancy”.
Hormones affect everyone differently, and some women just never feel sick in pregnancy. It’s not fair, I know, but it’s true.
Sometimes, if a pregnant woman has nausea but no other symptoms, she might chalk it up to something she ate or an intolerance of certain foods.
#3: Weight gain
CDC’s recommended pregnancy weight gain, for a woman in a normal weight range, is 11-15kgs (25-35lbs).
There’s a wide range in terms of the weight women actually gain in pregnancy.
I personally know a woman who was so worried about gaining too much that she actually weighed less than her pre-pregnancy weight when the baby was born.
It’s definitely possible to be pregnant without gaining enough weight to raise eyebrows.
Since weight fluctuations are normal, it’s also possible to believe those extra pounds might be the result of eating too many sweets.
#4: Baby bump
Women who are athletes or in good physical shape can have strong abdominal muscles that hold the baby in.
Tennis star Serena Williams announced her pregnancy at 20 weeks, via Snapchat, with a swimsuit-clad photo of her tiny bump.
Because of variations in anatomy, such as a longer torso or tilted uterus, in some women the baby might be positioned closer to the spine than the front.
This results in the belly protruding less than it would in other women.
#5: Baby kicks
Each pregnancy can feel different, even in the same body.
My first baby rolled and kicked so hard I could balance a cup on my belly and he would promptly knock it to the ground.
My second was hard to notice, and sometimes I’d sit really still to try to detect his motion.
Often an anterior placenta (when the placenta is attached to the front of the uterus) acts as a cushion between baby and mother’s belly and makes movements harder to feel.
Also a mother with a higher BMI might find baby’s movements less noticeable from the outside.
Can you be pregnant with no symptoms?
It’s not possible to be pregnant with no symptoms at all. It’s more likely milder symptoms can be explained away or attributed to other causes.
There’s a very powerful connection between the mind and the body.
The brain can overlook clues that would otherwise point to a baby on the way. This is especially true if a pregnancy is unwanted or unexpected.
As Erin said, with regard to her absence of symptoms: “I thought I had put on some Christmas weight. But I didn’t know I was pregnant”.
About 1 in every 425 pregnancies is undiscovered until 20 weeks or later.
This is called cryptic pregnancy. Cryptic pregnancy is also known as hidden pregnancy, stealth pregnancy, or denied pregnancy.
You can read more about the hows and whys of cryptic pregnancy in BellyBelly’s article Cryptic Pregnancy – Everything You Should Know.
Is it dangerous for a pregnancy to go undetected?
At whatever stage the pregnancy is discovered, the main concern is prenatal care for the mother and her baby.
The earlier a mother learns she’s pregnant, the sooner she can make lifestyle adjustments, such as avoiding alcohol and taking prenatal vitamins.
Early health screenings can detect potential complications like gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, ectopic pregnancy, or chromosomal abnormalities.
Perhaps the greatest effect of undetected pregnancy is the lack of time for the necessary mental and emotional adjustment to parenthood.
Becoming a parent is one of the huge transitions in human experience.
Most parents get a full six months or more to go through the physical, mental, and emotional steps to prepare for their new role.
When a baby arrives unexpectedly, or with very little warning, it can come as a shock, and makes the postpartum period even more of a challenge.
Many mothers who learned they were pregnant after 20 weeks often reported the reactions of other people as unkind and judgmental.
People simply can’t understand how or why this can happen, and worry something might be wrong.
Babies come in lots of different ways. And sometimes they’re a big surprise.
No matter how it happens, all new parents need love, understanding and support.