Cryptic Pregnancies: What are They?
Cryptic pregnancies are types of pregnancies that are not detected right away by pregnancy tests and sometimes even ultrasounds.
It's possible to have a cryptic pregnancy and go through your entire pregnancy without realizing you are pregnant.
The symptoms of a cryptic pregnancy can be very different from woman to woman, and even from pregnancy to pregnancy but are usually mild which is how the pregnancy can go unnoticed.
In this article, we will explore what cryptic pregnancies are, what causes them, and if they are any different from normal pregnancies.
What is a cryptic pregnancy?
A cryptic pregnancy, also called a stealth pregnancy or denied pregnancy, is a pregnancy that is not apparent until at least halfway through pregnancy, sometimes after even testing for it.
You may have no idea you are pregnant until well into the labor process, although they can be detected before then. Cryptic pregnancies are relatively rare, although not as rare as you might think.
Although it is not proven, it is estimated that 1 in 475 births are cryptic pregnancies until the 20-week mark, which is 5 months into the pregnancy, while not recognizing your pregnancy until labor occurs in approximately 1 in 2500 births.
If you have a cryptic pregnancy, it is important to understand that you are not alone and that you can get the support, care, and information you need to ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
What are the symptoms of a cryptic pregnancy?
Due to cryptic pregnancies being difficult to detect, there are often no symptoms or very mild symptoms in early cryptic pregnancies.
As the pregnancy progresses, cryptic pregnancy symptoms are often the same as regular pregnancy symptoms, although in the rarest cases there may be an unexpected delivery due to a lack or denial of these symptoms.
The symptoms and signs of pregnancy can include:
- Missed periods
- Breast changes or tender or swollen breasts
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight gain
- Abdominal swelling
Even if you have a few of the typical pregnancy symptoms, most women who have had cryptic pregnancies dismiss some of these symptoms for a myriad of reasons.
For example, maybe it is normal for you to have missed periods or maybe you took a pregnancy test and the results were negative.
These common pregnancy symptoms may also be dismissed if you have never experienced pregnancy before.
A typical pregnant woman finds out they are pregnant in weeks 5 to 12 of pregnancy; however, due to the above-listed examples and many other reasons, your pregnancy may not be noticed until later than normal.
What causes a cryptic pregnancy?
There is no definitive answer to this question. Cryptic pregnancies can be the result of a number of different things and these causes can include:
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a hormonal imbalance disorder that can cause a missed period or an irregular period.
Age and perimenopause
As women age, they may have fewer and fewer periods until they stop having them altogether which is called menopause.
The years leading up to menopause are called perimenopause. During this time, it is possible to ovulate irregularly, which can make it difficult to calculate when your last period occurred or predict when your next period will be.
Irregular menstrual cycle
If you have an irregular menstrual cycle and do not have regular periods, it can be difficult to predict when your next menstrual period will occur which makes calculating a due date very difficult and often leads to miscalculations.
An irregular menstrual cycle can be caused by being very active and having low body fat.
Spotting or light bleeding can occur during early pregnancy and is often mistaken for a period.
Recent pregnancy or childbirth
If you have recently given birth or had a miscarriage, it is possible to become pregnant again very quickly before your next period which can make it difficult to know when your last period was if you are not charting your cycles.
False confidence due to birth control
When you use birth control pills or an intrauterine device (IUD) as your method of contraception, you may become less vigilant due to a false sense of security which can lead to a denial of pregnancy when you are actually pregnant.
Although birth control is effective at preventing pregnancies, there is still a minuscule chance that you can still become pregnant.
Also, if you did not take your birth control pills as prescribed or missed a dose, you have a higher chance of becoming pregnant.
Mild or no pregnancy symptoms
If you have a cryptic pregnancy and experience mild or no pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea and back pain, you may not think that you are pregnant which can obviously lead to delayed prenatal care.
False pregnancy test results
Although it is rare, it is possible to get a false negative pregnancy test result.
If you take a home pregnancy test and the results are negative but you still think you may be pregnant, it is best to follow up with your doctor for a blood test that has greater accuracy, although these can also produce false negatives.
Lack of a baby bump
If you have a cryptic pregnancy and are not showing, it may be assumed that you are not pregnant.
Lack of a baby bump, also called a pregnancy bump, is more common in plus-size women although other women do not show their bump until later in their pregnancy.
Assuming the pregnancy is not viable
Sometimes, a woman may think that she is not pregnant because she has had previous miscarriages or fertility issues.
If you have had multiple miscarriages, it is possible to become pregnant again but you may not think that it is possible which can lead to a delayed diagnosis.
If you suffer from a mental illness, some research has shown that women with certain disorders are more likely to have pregnancy denial.
Lack of movement from your baby
If you have a cryptic pregnancy, you may not feel your baby move until later in your pregnancy. The lack of movement may be due to the location of your fetus and placenta.
How long are cryptic pregnancies?
It is uncertain whether cryptic pregnancies last the same amount of time as a typical pregnancy.
Some experts believe that cryptic pregnancies may last for a shorter period of time due to a lack of awareness of the pregnancy and living an unhealthy lifestyle which can lead to premature birth, while others believe that they may actually last longer due to a lack of pregnancy hormones which would make the pregnancy noticeable earlier on.
More research is needed to conclusively say whether either is correct.
How can I have a negative pregnancy test while pregnant?
Besides the reasons listed above, if you have a cryptic pregnancy and take a home pregnancy test, it is possible to get an inaccurate pregnancy test result.
False-negative results can happen because the levels of pregnancy hormones, specifically HCG, the hormone that is produced during pregnancy, may not be high enough to trigger a positive result on a home pregnancy test.
You can even have an ultrasound and have a false negative due to the position of your fetus, an irregular shape of your uterus, or the ultrasound technician making an error.
Is labor any different for a cryptic pregnancy?
There is no difference in labor or delivery for a cryptic pregnancy as opposed to a typical pregnancy. The contractions and processes are exactly the same.
Can the baby and mother be healthy after a cryptic pregnancy?
Yes, the baby and mother can be just as healthy after a cryptic pregnancy as they would be after a typical pregnancy.
The baby will go through the same development process and will reach all of the usual milestones.
The mother may experience some complications due to a lack of prenatal care but otherwise, it is possible to recover just fine.
Please note that if you do not live a healthy lifestyle and have a cryptic pregnancy, there is a chance your baby will not be as healthy as during a regular pregnancy with proper prenatal care although more research is needed.
Cryptic pregnancies are pregnancies where you do not recognize you are pregnant until at least 20 weeks after becoming pregnant.
These types of pregnancies are rare but they do happen. If you think you may be pregnant but are not showing any symptoms, it is important to take a home pregnancy test and follow up with your doctor for a blood test to help confirm it.
A cryptic pregnancy can have the same labor and delivery as a typical pregnancy and the baby and mother can be just as healthy.
However, if you have a cryptic pregnancy and do not live a healthy lifestyle, your baby may not be as healthy as during a regular pregnancy although more research is needed to understand cryptic pregnancies better.
If you have any more questions or think you may be pregnant or are experiencing any symptoms of pregnancy, it is best to consult with your doctor or health care provider to get the most accurate and up-to-date information.
References and Sources:
- Not your average birth: considering the possibility of denied or concealed pregnancy
- The evolutionary biology of cryptic pregnancy: A re-appraisal of the "denied pregnancy" phenomenon