What is Cryptic Pregnancy?

What is Cryptic Pregnancy?
Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Key takeaways

  1. Cryptic pregnancy is an unknown pregnancy of which you are unaware and fail to observe the normal signs and symptoms till the last week of the pregnancy or labor.
  2. The symptoms of cryptic pregnancy would be similar to those you would experience in normal pregnancy, but they may be more subtle and not noticeable. For instance, you may experience nausea and vomiting, but it may not be as intense as experienced in a normal pregnancy.
  3. Several conditions could lead to a cryptic pregnancy. Some health conditions or birth control methods can lead women to believe pregnancy is impossible. Other causes are PCOs, first pregnancy, perimenopause, or False positive results on a kit.

Overview

Many women experience labor symptoms even before receiving a positive pregnancy test. Many women experience the symptoms of labor even before they receive a positive pregnancy test. Whether they have nausea, tender breasts or have missed a period; their bodies are giving them signals that they are indeed with child. 

But what if your body failed to send these signals and pregnancy went undetected? While it seems like a storyline straight out of a movie it can and does happen to women all over the world. 

What is Cryptic Pregnancy?

Cryptic pregnancy is an unknown pregnancy of which you are unaware and fail to observe the normal signs and symptoms. There could be alot of reasons for people not noticing any of the pregnancy symptoms, including PCOS, Normal spotting, being overwhelmed, losing weight completely, or using an inaccurate device for a pregnancy check. 

How Can You Be Pregnant and Not Know It?

Cryptic pregnancy is a term that is used to define a pregnancy that goes unnoticed until delivery. Even though this sounds unrealistic, it is possible. The Learning Channel (TLC) has a popular series called “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant,” where women share their stories of cryptic births. 

Some women featured in the series have larger frames, so their bodies were able to hide a small bump. Yet even very slender women also were able to carry a pregnancy without noticing or showing! 
We asked one of our experts, Dr. Richard Honaker, M.D., to share with us how this phenomenon happens and what could lead us to become pregnant without ever knowing it.

You can now chat with our healthcare providers 24/7 for any query related to your reproductive cycle and get expert consultation.

What are the symptoms of hidden pregnancy signs?

The symptoms of cryptic pregnancy would be similar to those you would experience in normal pregnancy, but they may be more subtle. For instance, you may experience nausea and vomiting, but it may not be as intense as experienced in a normal pregnancy.  Similarly, the baby’s movements can be mistaken for gas bubbles. 

Some women also experience period-like bleeding during pregnancy with shorter durations and lighter flow. Such a situation can make anyone think that they’re not pregnant.  

In addition, the other symptoms you can experience include fatigue, food aversions, the need to urinate more often, an increase in weight, and feeling aches and pains in the body.

Symptoms of cryptic pregnancy can be summed up as follows:

1. Missed periods

One of the most common signs of pregnancy is a missed menstrual period. In a cryptic pregnancy, the woman may continue to have menstrual bleeding mistaken for a regular period, leading to the belief that pregnancy is not occurring.

Did you miss your period? Chat With a virtual doctor now to get the consultation.

2. Spotting

Some women with cryptic pregnancies may experience light vaginal bleeding or spotting, which can be confused with a regular period or irregular bleeding.

3. Few or absent pregnancy symptoms

Women with cryptic pregnancies may have fewer or milder pregnancy symptoms than a typical pregnancy. This can lead to the misconception that they are not pregnant.

4. Weight gain

As the pregnancy progresses, women with cryptic pregnancy may experience gradual weight gain. However, the weight gain may be attributed to other factors, like changes in diet or lifestyle, rather than pregnancy.

5. Nausea and fatigue

Nausea, morning sickness, and fatigue are common symptoms of pregnancy. In a cryptic pregnancy, nausea may be less pronounced or absent altogether, further contributing to the belief that pregnancy is not occurring. Women with cryptic pregnancy may experience fatigue, but it can be attributed to other factors or overlooked as a regular part of their daily routine.

6. Cramping and Bloating

Some women with cryptic pregnancies may experience mild abdominal cramping similar to menstrual cramps. These cramps can be mistaken for normal menstrual discomfort. Hormonal changes in pregnancy can cause bloating and water retention.

7. Frequent urination

As the uterus expands and eventually puts pressure on the bladder, pregnant women often experience an increased frequency of urination. However, this symptom may be mild or absent in a cryptic pregnancy, leading to the assumption that pregnancy is not occurring.

8. Constipation

Pregnancy hormones may slow down the digestive system, leading to constipation. However, in a cryptic pregnancy, constipation may not be noticeable or may be attributed to other causes.

9. Tender breasts

Breast tenderness is an early pregnancy symptom caused by hormone changes and increased blood flow to the breasts. In a cryptic pregnancy, breast tenderness may be absent or less pronounced, leading to the belief that pregnancy is not occurring.

What causes hidden (cryptic) pregnancy?

With a typical pregnancy, the newly fertilized egg first creates a blastocyst (a fluid-filled group of cells) that will develop into the baby’s organs and body parts.

About 10 to 14 days after conception, the blastocyst will implant in the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium. This can cause implantation bleeding in some women. It can be mistaken for a light period.

In a typical pregnancy, women will begin experiencing pregnancy symptoms around 4 to 6 weeks pregnant.  While in stealth pregnancy, you barely recognize or feel any symptoms of a normal pregnancy.

A cryptic pregnancy, also called a stealth pregnancy, occurs when the body does not make enough of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) to be detected using traditional pregnancy testing methods. 

Causes of Cryptic Pregnancy

There are several conditions that could lead to a cryptic pregnancy. Some health conditions or birth control methods can lead women to believe that pregnancy is not a possibility. 

1. PCOS

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a common health condition that affects approximately 10 % of the female population. PCOS is caused by a hormone imbalance within the female reproductive system. 

PCOS causes several issues associated with a woman’s reproductive cycle including: 

  • Missed periods
  • Heavy periods
  • Irregular periods
  • Infertility

Many women with PCOS may be told that a pregnancy without medical intervention could be difficult or even impossible. With this knowledge, along with irregular or even absent periods, women with PCOS could easily dismiss the signs of pregnancy. 

Are you sexually active and missing periods? Let’s talk to the provider online now for the correct diagnosis.

If ovulation is triggered a woman could become pregnant and not know it. As she may not be expecting a monthly period, she may not discover or suspect that she is pregnant. 

2. Birth control

Some birth control methods can give women a false sense of security. Some methods may cause an absence of a period or offer a high rate of protection, giving women a false sense that they are unable to get pregnant.

Keep in mind not all birth control is 100% effective, and you can still get pregnant while taking birth control.

3. Gave birth recently

Sometimes, when you just give birth and breastfeeding, it usually takes some time for you to become fertile again for pregnancy. It sometimes gives the false impression of not being pregnant, ignoring all the false symptoms leading to cryptic pregnancy.

4. Perimenopause

Perimenopause is the phase where people in their 40s think they can get pregnant to age and have less probability of egg production, which sometimes gives the impression that one can not get pregnant for long. Missing the periods or pregnancy symptoms can become the cause of cryptic pregnancy.

5. False periods

Some women may mistake bleeding during pregnancy as a monthly period. Bleeding during the first trimester is fairly common. 20 to 30% of women experience some bleeding in their pregnancy.

Getting a false negative is totally normal. Let’s talk to the doctor online now for any query and get the correct diagnosis.

Bleeding during the first trimester can be attributed to implantation bleeding, infection, or changes to the cervix that cause bleeding after intercourse. 

As the pregnancy continues, bleeding is less common and can be a sign of a pregnancy complication. If you are experiencing bleeding in pregnancy, it is important to speak to your doctor right away.

6. First-time pregnancy: Never been pregnant before

Getting pregnant for the first time after staying sexually active for longer periods is quite unusual, and it can be the cause of pregnancy. You might be thinking that you can’t get pregnant, or you have been told that you won’t be able to bear a child and miss all the symptoms of pregnancy can also be the cause of cryptic pregnancy. 

Can you prevent cryptic pregnancy?

Cryptic pregnancy never happens knowingly or consciously. It happens when all the normal pregnancy symptoms are not felt or seen. It can’t be prevented 100%, but being more cautious than usual might prevent you from an unknown pregnancy. 

Here are some of the things to consider to prevent a cryptic pregnancy: 

  1. Keep a good eye on your period cycle and its regularity. If they are irregular, it’s good to reconsider all the reasons it’s happening. It’s good to see a doctor in case the curiosity and irregular periods persist. 
  2. If you have PCOs and you experience sudden weight gain with nausea, it’s good to keep the pregnancy kit with you to get yourself checked for the pregnancy.
  3. If you took birth control and missed your period for 1-2 months straight, it’s not normal and should be catered with the medical care to diagnose the medical condition.
Get yourself checked now if you are noticing any changes in your menstrual cycle with our virtual doctors.

What are the complications and risk factors associated with cryptic(hidden) pregnancy?

Complications of a cryptic pregnancy arise due to being unaware you’re pregnant. Some of those complications include:

1. Delayed prenatal care

One of the significant complications of a cryptic pregnancy is the delay in receiving appropriate prenatal care. Without the knowledge of pregnancy, women miss out on crucial early screenings and tests for ensuring a healthy pregnancy. This delay can have long-term consequences for the mother and the developing baby, potentially impacting their overall well-being.

2. Emotional and psychological impact

Discovering a cryptic pregnancy can be a profound emotional and psychological experience for the woman involved. The sudden realization of being pregnant after a long period of unawareness can cause a range of emotions, including shock, confusion, and even disbelief. Dealing with such feelings and adjusting to impending motherhood can be challenging and reflective.

3. Maternal health risks

There is an increased risk of maternal health complications without proper prenatal care. These may include gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or other conditions affecting the mother’s well-being during pregnancy. The absence of medical supervision and guidance can make managing and addressing these risks challenging.

4. Fetal developmental concerns

A cryptic pregnancy may result in inadequate prenatal nutrition and care, potentially impacting the baby’s development. The lack of essential nutrients and prenatal vitamins during early stages can interfere with fetal growth and increase the risk of congenital disabilities or other developmental issues. Ensuring proper nutrition and care becomes crucial for supporting optimal fetal development and health.

5. Birth preparations

Discovering a cryptic pregnancy late in the gestational period can lead to a scramble to prepare for childbirth. This includes arranging necessary resources, such as a healthcare provider, a birthing plan, and support systems. The sudden realization of impending parenthood can add stress and urgency to a significant life event.

6. Social and support systems

Cryptic pregnancy can strain social relationships and support systems. Family, friends, and partners may experience various emotions, including surprise and confusion. Navigating these dynamics can be challenging for all involved, as expectations and plans may need to be adjusted and re-evaluated.

5. Postpartum adjustments

After delivery, a woman experiencing a cryptic pregnancy may face unique postpartum challenges. The sudden transition to motherhood and the surprise factor can impact the woman’s emotional well-being, bonding with the baby, and adjustment to the new role. Building a support network and seeking professional help become vital in facilitating a smooth transition into the postpartum period.

Why might a pregnancy test give a false negative?

Some women may mistake bleeding during pregnancy as a monthly period. Bleeding during the first trimester is fairly common. 20 to 30% of women experience some bleeding in their pregnancy. 

Bleeding during the first trimester can be attributed to implantation bleeding, infection, or changes to the cervix that cause bleeding after intercourse. 

As the pregnancy continues, bleeding is less common and can be a sign of a pregnancy complication. If you are experiencing bleeding in pregnancy, it is important to speak to your doctor right away.

When to consult a doctor

There can be many barriers to prevent women from seeking traditional medical advice. That is why at Your Doctors Online we offer 24 hours a day access to North American doctors. Connecting is simple and you can start your online chat in a matter of minutes. 

Chat With a Doctor To Get Pregnancy Test And Prescription At Your Preferred Pharmacy

FAQs about cryptic pregnancy answered by your doctors online

How does a cryptic pregnancy last?

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.

What is the fastest way to know if you are pregnant?

The most accessible way to confirm pregnancy is by taking a home pregnancy test. This test can pick a positive pregnancy result as early as two weeks after fertilization. You can get a BHCG blood test done for a quicker result.

How would your stomach feel if you were pregnant?

A  woman’s stomach might tingle, flutter, or seem tender to the touch in the pregnancy. Yet, the true nature of these sensations can be elusive. Each woman’s experience is uniquely composed yet different regarding feeling the stomach.

How does a baby grow in cryptic pregnancy?

In a cryptic pregnancy, the baby grows within the woman’s uterus, just like in a typical pregnancy. However, in cryptic pregnancy, typical indicators like missed periods, morning sickness, and weight gain may be absent or go unnoticed. Also, factors such as hormonal imbalances, irregular menstrual cycles, and the positioning of the fetus can contribute to the lack of visible signs.

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Jenkins A, Millar S, Robins J. Denial of pregnancy: a literature review and discussion of ethical and legal issues. J R Soc Med. 2011 Jul;104(7):286-91. doi: 10.1258/jrsm.2011.100376. PMID: 21725094; PMCID: PMC3128877.
  • Stammers K, Long N. Not your average birth: considering the possibility of denied or concealed pregnancy. BMJ Case Rep. 2014 May 29;2014:bcr2014204800. doi: 10.1136/bcr-2014-204800. PMID: 24876214; PMCID: PMC4039772.
  • National Institutes of Health. What is menopause?
  • American Pregnancy Association. What is a Cryptic Pregnancy?
  • Food and Drug Administration. Pregnancy

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