For many mamas-to-be, pregnancy is an exciting time of planning, picking out names, and the joy of that very first kick. But in some unusual cases (although more than you’d think) mamas miss out on these experiences – because they don’t recognize they’re pregnant at all. When this happens, it’s known as a stealth or cryptic pregnancy.
Turns out, sometimes you might only discover your little peanut late into your pregnancy, or even as labor begins.
With TV shows like “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” and cryptic pregnancy stories reported in the media, awareness of the condition is becoming more widespread. But it’s often still viewed as a mysterious phenomenon.
How common is cryptic pregnancy?
The most recent cryptic pregnancy statistics suggest that 1 in 475 pregnancies are hidden at 20 weeks (5 months). That is, the woman doesn’t recognize that she is pregnant, and the pregnancy hasn’t been spotted by a family member or doctor. A stealth pregnancy becomes more likely to be revealed after that point, with only 1 in 2,500 pregnancies staying concealed until labor starts.
Cryptic pregnancy symptoms
Essentially, the “symptom” of a cryptic pregnancy is the lack of symptoms! Early signs that would normally help you to work out that you’re pregnant may not be there, or you might misinterpret them if they do appear. A few things that might throw you off the scent are:
- A negative pregnancy test result: Yep, it’s possible to get a false negative reading on a home pregnancy test and wrongly believe that you’re not pregnant, but there are ways to reduce the risk of this (more on that later).
- Monthly bleeding: With a typical pregnancy, you’ll no longer get your monthly period. However, it is common to experience some light bleeding (or “spotting”) while pregnant, and you could mistake this for a period – particularly if pregnancy isn’t on your radar.
- Lack of pregnancy symptoms: You may not get any of the usual early pregnancy symptoms: nausea, tender breasts, tiredness. Or you may assume another cause. For example, nausea could be linked to a stomach upset and tiredness to work stress.
Later on in the cryptic pregnancy, baby movement might be explained away as cramps or muscle twinges. Plus, a cryptic pregnancy can even disguise the ultimate pregnancy sign: the baby bump.
What causes a cryptic pregnancy?
A cryptic pregnancy becomes more likely if you have another condition or medication that’s interfering with your hormones, causing other symptoms that disguise the signs of pregnancy.
For example, if you use hormonal birth control, such as the pill or an IUD, you might be used to not having periods. Or if you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), you may not be expecting to become pregnant and your periods might be irregular.
Also, if you’re over 45 years old, you may explain away pregnancy symptoms (like weight gain or mood swings) as signs of the menopause.
The shape of your body can also play a role in concealing your baby bump. If you’re super athletic, the tight muscles in your abdomen can stop your bump from becoming prominent, or if you fall pregnant soon after giving birth, it could go unnoticed as you’ve still got a little bit of a bump from your previous little one.
Is there a difference between a cryptic pregnancy and a denied pregnancy?
Sometimes a pregnancy isn’t hidden because the woman hasn’t noticed she’s pregnant, but because she doesn’t want to accept the situation. In these cases, it’s more common to refer to a cryptic pregnancy as a “denied pregnancy”. Reasons for this include:
- Mental health: You may be unable to acknowledge your pregnancy in your mind, even if you’re aware of the physical symptoms. Or it could be that you feel mentally and emotionally unprepared for a baby, so you push it to the back of your mind and try to forget about it.
- Life challenges: Certain challenging situations might motivate you to hide your pregnancy. For example, if you’re in an abusive relationship, you’re afraid of your family’s reaction to your pregnancy, or if you are very young and not sure how to handle the fact of being pregnant.
If you’re in a situation like this, it’s important to seek support and get the care that you need during your pregnancy. Talking to your doctor would be a good first step.
How long does a cryptic pregnancy last?
We can’t be sure how long a cryptic pregnancy lasts in comparison to a normal pregnancy, as there isn’t much scientific evidence in this area.
One problem with a cryptic pregnancy is that you may miss out on some or all of the usual prenatal care, and this could have an impact on the length of your pregnancy. Researchers in Hungary, for example, found that a lack of prenatal care increased the chance of going into labor early.
Of course, it’s also crucial for mamas to get the essential care and medical attention they need during birth. But with a cryptic pregnancy, there’s a risk of giving birth on your own or in an unsuitable place, as you’re not expecting to go into labor.
A “stealth baby”, such as the little boy in this study, can be born perfectly happy and healthy. However, it’s still so important to pick up on those pregnancy clues early, so you can get the best medical advice and plan the birth experience you really want.
How to detect a cryptic pregnancy
Finding out that you’re pregnant early on is ideal – not just so you can get prenatal care lined up, but also so you can make any lifestyle changes that are helpful during pregnancy.
For example, getting all the right nutrients in your diet and cutting down on the caffeine (chamomile tea anyone?).
But if your pregnancy has stayed hidden for a while, even detecting it a little before the birth will still give you time to make a plan and get in some extra health checks. Let’s take a look at a few ways to bring that pregnancy out into the open:
- Take care with the pregnancy test: You can avoid overlooking a pregnancy early on by buying a good-quality home pregnancy test and following the instructions carefully. If you get a negative result and you’re not convinced, try another.
- Consult your doctor: Your doctor can use different methods to detect your pregnancy, including a blood test and a pelvic exam. You may be offered an ultrasound scan, too, to try and identify how far along you are in your pregnancy.
- Look out for odd symptoms: Yes, it might just be gas or stress or a couple of extra pounds – but if there’s any chance you could be pregnant, don’t just dismiss the signs. Taking a test could put your mind at ease.
- Seek support: Pregnancy and the prospect of a new life to care for can be a challenge – particularly if you weren’t expecting it, or there are other things making your life difficult right now. But it’s so important to look after yourself and get the support that you need.
To all you surprise mamas out there, we’ve got you.