Cryptic Pregnancy

A small percentage of women experience a cryptic pregnancy, where they are unaware they are pregnant until they are in labor. Here is what causes these rare instances of “I didn’t know I was pregnant.”

If you are or have previously been pregnant, it may be challenging to comprehend how someone may be unaware of their pregnancy. In fact, pregnancy is accompanied by a variety of symptoms, some of which begin even before those two pink lines appear (sore breasts, anyone?).

A tiny minority of women, however, develop for several months (or even until labor begins) without realizing they are pregnant; this condition is known as cryptic pregnancy or stealth pregnancy.

This type of pregnancy is uncommon, according to Daniel Boyer, M.D., a practicing physician at the Farr Institute who specializes in medical research. Recent scientific research demonstrates, however, that 1 in 475 pregnancies qualify as cryptic, indicating that the pregnancy is not discovered until at least 20 weeks. Even more uncommon, approximately 1 in 2,500 persons are unaware of their pregnancy until delivery.

Learn more about cryptic pregnancies and the most typical causes of “I had no idea I was pregnant” scenarios.

How Does a Cryptic Pregnancy Occur?

In general, a pregnancy is considered cryptic if the woman remains unaware of her pregnancy for at least 20 weeks. Here are some circumstances that can increase the likelihood of a cryptic pregnancy.

Symptoms of pregnancy are absent.

Frequently, a cryptic pregnancy happens when the pregnant woman has extremely moderate or no pregnancy symptoms. “There are no normal pregnancy symptoms such as exhaustion, nausea, and vomiting, missed period, or stomach pain,” explains Rebekah Diamond, M.D., a pediatric hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at New York City and Columbia University.

Erroneous pregnancy symptoms.

A cryptic pregnancy can also occur when a woman attributes her symptoms to something else. For instance, early pregnancy weariness could be misconstrued for little sleep or excessive stress. How about nausea, heartburn, and bloating? Digestive issues! Absent period? Just another cyclical anomaly.

Dr. Diamond explains, “A woman can continue to have bleeding that resembles menstrual cycles, have erratic bleeding, or not have periods, but not recognize this as a clue she may be pregnant if she has underlying issues that make her periods extremely irregular.”

Tiny baby bump.

What about the distinct baby bump that often shows during the second trimester? As it turns out, bumps are not often extremely obvious, which can increase the likelihood of a cryptic pregnancy. “Depending on the position of the fetus in the uterus, its growth rate, and the distribution of body weight, women with cryptic pregnancies may not exhibit significant baby bumps,” explains Dr. Boyer.

This is especially frequent among young, athletic women pregnant for the first time because their abdominal muscles have never been stretched by pregnancy, making them even tighter. Those who are overweight may also have fewer apparent pregnancy bumps.

Negative pregnancy test results.

False negative pregnancy tests are very uncommon, but they can occur, particularly if the test was administered too early or incorrectly. This could enable someone to have a false sense of security that they are not pregnant when, in reality, they are.

“The pregnancy test-positive hormone (hCG) is also responsible for many pregnant symptoms, including nausea,” explains Dr. Diamond. Hence, there may be a correlation between individuals with false-negative pregnancy tests (particularly early on) and individuals with little or no pregnancy symptoms, as low hCG levels may cause both. In addition, she states, “Some pregnant women do not take a pregnancy test since they have no symptoms.”

Reasons for Cryptic Pregnancy

Anyone can experience a cryptic pregnancy, but sometimes there is a rational explanation. These can include hormonal issues, contraceptive techniques, and lifestyle modifications. Dr. Boyer discusses several causes of cryptic pregnancy.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can have a negative influence on fertility and is frequently associated with irregular periods, weight gain, excessively oily skin, and digestive difficulties. A person with PCOS may attribute pregnancy symptoms to PCOS-induced hormone abnormalities.


Several symptoms of pregnancy and perimenopause overlap, including weight gain and mood changes. Those who are pregnant may believe they are entering a new phase of life rather than expecting a child. Even if you have an irregular menstrual cycle, it is still possible to become pregnant during perimenopause.

Contraception use

Although intrauterine devices (IUDs) and birth control tablets are highly successful at preventing pregnancy, it is still possible to become pregnant while using them. If this occurs, you may develop a false sense of security and not realize you are pregnant until a late stage of gestation.

Excellent levels of fitness

Individuals in outstanding physical shape are less likely to display a noticeable baby bump until the later stages of pregnancy.

Believing you cannot conceive

If someone has been diagnosed with infertility, they may doubt their ability to conceive. Those who are breastfeeding or who have just given birth may disregard pregnancy signals if they believe ovulation has not yet returned.


In certain instances, a cryptic pregnancy is the result of the pregnant individual’s denial or mental health issues. Dr. Diamond explains, “Some cases of cryptic pregnancy occur in the context of mental illness (and rejecting that one is pregnant despite indicators of pregnancy is a more prominent feature), but this is by no means the situation for the vast majority of cryptic pregnancies.”

Potential Cryptic Pregnancy Complications

As cryptic pregnancies continue without sufficient medical treatment or prenatal vitamins, they raise the chance of difficulties for both the pregnant mother and the unborn child. Fetal anomalies and maternal health issues (such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes) may go undetected.

Moreover, expectant parents may consume alcohol or drugs, which are not considered safe during pregnancy. A higher risk of prematurity, poor birth weight, hospitalization, unattended delivery, and mortality is related with unnoticed pregnancies.

A new parent’s mental health may be damaged by a cryptic pregnancy, particularly if they are unprepared for a kid, which can lead to child abuse or neglect, disassociation from the child, depression, and other symptoms of psychological discomfort.

The Conclusion

Although cryptic pregnancies are difficult to explain, they do occur on occasion. Even if a home pregnancy test is negative, it is essential to seek medical attention if you have unexpected pregnancy-related symptoms. Correct diagnosis and treatment maximize the likelihood of a healthy mother, child, and pregnancy.

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