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Cryptic Pregnancy: Can You Be Pregnant and Not Know It?

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You may have heard of cases wherein women only knew they were having a baby when they began experiencing contractions or going into labor.

Women can get pregnant without detecting it for the entire term. This condition is called cryptic pregnancy. Research shows that 1 in 475 pregnancies go undetected or unnoticed not until the fifth month with cryptic pregnancy.

As confusing and unfortunate cryptic pregnancy can be, you can avoid this condition with the right information.  

If you suspect pregnancy, but the tests keep coming back negative, you may want to understand how cryptic pregnancy works. Undoubtedly, this is something you need to look out for.

What Is Cryptic Pregnancy? 

Cryptic pregnancy is a type of pregnancy that lacks observable pregnancy symptoms not until the 20th week or fifth month of the pregnancy. This is why it is also called stealth pregnancy.

There is still a lot to uncover about cryptic pregnancy and why it happens. For example, aside from the absence of expected symptoms, the condition also gives a false negative pregnancy test if you use at-home urine pregnancy test kits. 

In addition, there’s also a good chance that during an ultrasound, the technician may not detect the fetus because of the atypical embryo implantation. 

Cryptic Pregnancy Causes

The root cause of cryptic pregnancy could depend on the level of knowledge a woman has regarding pregnancy. But in some cases, the condition can be due to an underlying health issue involving hormonal imbalances. 

Doctors often distinguish the causes of stealth pregnancy as either psychotic or nonpsychotic. This means that there’s a chance the pregnancy developed unrecognized due to psychological issues or otherwise. 

Nonetheless, here are some of the common driving forces behind  hidden pregnancies. 

Early Testing

Most women in the US often detect pregnancy between the 5th to 20th week. Hence, those testing earlier than this period can easily assume that they are not pregnant, given the negative results. This can be complicated if you have irregular periods, as you may believe the lack of menstruation is a typical part of your cycle. 

Infertility Misdiagnosis

Stealth pregnancy could also be tied up with an initial diagnosis of infertility. In this case, women who have previous problems with conception do not expect to get pregnant anymore. Hence, they often dismiss the idea of pregnancy despite the symptoms.  

While infertility seems to be a fixed condition, infertile women who have become pregnant are not unheard of. 

Psychological Conditions

The cause of cryptic pregnancy can also be traced to psychological denial caused by a mental illness or deliberate neglect of the pregnancy. 

According to a 2011 review, women diagnosed with mental health issues distorting their sense of reality such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, may cause them to dismiss the pregnancy despite overt symptoms. 

On the other hand, some women consciously ignore their pregnancy due to the negative experience surrounding the condition. 

For example, women who have suffered a traumatic event leading to pregnancy can actively ignore their pregnancy due to lack of emotional attachment. 

Hormonal Problems

Cryptic pregnancy is primarily associated with hormonal imbalance. While the exact cause is as mysterious as the condition, what remains clear is gynecological problems involving hormones contribute to your risk for cryptic pregnancy. 

For example, if you have polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS, you’re likely to develop cryptic pregnancy. This is because PCOS leads to hormonal imbalances, which affect your ovulation schedule. As a result, you may experience subtle pregnancy symptoms that can be easily ignored. 

In the same way, postpartum hormonal changes can also cause cryptic pregnancy. After pregnancy, the hormones in the body take time to return to their normal cycles. However, ovulation may start unexpectedly which results in stealth pregnancy. 

Birth Control Failure

Another potential cause can also be linked to birth control usage. Women using birth control may assume they will not get pregnant. Hence, it becomes a surprise when they do. However, some birth controls tend to fail or alter the dynamics of your hormone, leading to unpredictable ovulation. 

Age

Cryptic pregnancy can be influenced by age. 

For women nearing the life of their menstrual cycle, perimenopausal and pregnancy symptoms have pretty similar effects. As a result, women with cryptic pregnancy at this age might think they are only experiencing perimenopausal symptoms.

Factors That Make It Difficult to Detect Pregnancy 

An irregular period makes it even more challenging to detect pregnancy as it doesn’t follow the typical duration of the menstrual stages. Hence, women who have the condition simply assume that missing their period is part of their monthly cycle. 

Also, sporadic bleeding or spotting, which occurs when an embryo is implanted in the uterus, can be mistaken as light menstruation.

Moreover, unnoticeable “baby bumps” and obesity are other factors to look out for. What some women may think as average weight gain could be actual pregnancy. 

On the other hand, false pregnancy test results can also be the reason for cryptic pregnancy.

Pregnancy tests are commonly used to detect pregnancy, but errors can happen. Tests are not foolproof for mistakes, especially if done too early. Also, you can have a false-negative result due to low hCG levels. 

This is why it’s recommended to take a quantitative pregnancy blood test over an at-home urine pregnancy test, especially as accuracy is at stake.  

How Long Can Pregnancy Hide Itself?

A woman who has a cryptic pregnancy may not be aware that she has been pregnant for not at least five months.

However, sources do not have a specific duration to give about cryptic pregnancies. In fact, some women have experienced this phenomenon and have only known that they were pregnant on the day they experienced labor pains.

Truthfully, it depends on how prompt you are on detecting pregnancy. So, the condition’s duration varies.

With that, it is pretty challenging because cryptic pregnancies only show subtle to no pregnancy symptoms. 

Are Cryptic Pregnancies Rare? 

According to research, cryptic pregnancy is a rare condition for women. However, it can happen to anyone, especially those who have PCOS, irregular menstruation, or fertility issues. 

Unfortunately, since cryptic or stealth pregnancy is usually detected during later terms, women often develop emotional disturbances that further affect their health and that of the baby. Plus, it increases their risk for more complicated childbirth.

Nevertheless, cryptic pregnancy does not usually occur among women except for unique circumstances or deli

Can You Feel Kicks With a Cryptic Pregnancy? 

Pregnant women have varied experiences with pregnancy symptoms. That is, moms-to-be can distinctly feel their babies’ movements inside their tummies.

However, having a cryptic pregnancy can be more challenging as far as detecting or feeling the “kicks” in your belly. Some women may assume that fetal movement links to digestive problems.

On the other hand, if the location of the placenta is in front of the uterus, it may also take time for you to feel the kicks and can be a bit harder to recognize too. Hence, it’s possible to feel subtle kicks and ignore them simply because they don’t seem like fetal movements. 

What Are the Complications of a Cryptic Pregnancy? 

Lack of awareness about your pregnancy may harm you and your baby’s health. You will not receive proper prenatal care, which is crucial for a healthy pregnancy.

With that, when you do not realize pregnancy symptoms, chances are you may fail to take better care of your body. As a result, you may continue eating unhealthy food and even engage in unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking.

Being unaware of the pregnancy, you can also do extra heavy and stressful activities that can affect your condition and the baby’s development in the womb.

Consequently, you may experience prenatal complications, including gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia. Also, babies born from cryptic pregnancies are more likely to be underweight or born prematurely.

One of the worst-case scenarios involves giving birth anytime and anywhere. You might have unassisted childbirth, which is a matter of life and death situation.

According to doctors, up to 15% of childbirth involves potentially fatal complications. Moreover, approximately 500,000 women all around the world die from complications during delivery.

On top of that, there can be a big chance that you would feel emotionally disconnected from your baby due to lack of preparedness or shock or feeling betrayed from the pregnancy.  

Moreover, you can feel a roller coaster of big emotions such as excitement, joy, fear, and anxiety. This can also lead to postpartum depression due to the pressure and changes happening to you mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Will Cryptic Pregnancy Show in a Test? 

Cryptic pregnancy may or may not show up on a test. At-home pregnancy test kits most likely show a false negative, especially if taken early. This is because of low hCG. So, using the quantitative urine pregnancy test may be inefficient. 

Ultrasound can also fail to detect the embryo due to the possible irregularity of where it has been implanted in the uterus.

Nevertheless, there is another method that can also detect pregnancy. This is done through a quantitative hCG blood test. Instead of a positive or negative result, this test will allow your obstetrician to measure hCG even at low levels. 

Bottom Line 

Being more aware and conscious of your body and well-being is a big thing. There are a lot of reproductive conditions women are facing right now. And cryptic pregnancy is one to look out for because this condition is subtle with almost no symptoms. Learning more about this phenomenon and seeing your gynecologist regularly can help. 

Medically Approved By Dr. Edward Salko, MD

Dr. Edward Salko is the board-certified physician who reviews lab tests provided by PERSONALABS™. He earned his Bachelor of Science in chemistry and pre-med from the University of Florida in Gainesville and his Doctor of Osteopathy Medicine in 1980 from Kansas City University School of Medicine.

Dr. Salko’s career has specialized in family and emergency medicine. His passion is to provide clients with the tools they need in the most convenient way possible to allow them to take charge of their own healthcare. He has held a variety of positions in Kansas, Florida and Washington. Currently, in addition to his duties as Medical Director for Personalabs, he is a practicing emergency physician in Kennewick, Washington.

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