Cryptic Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms, and FAQs

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What Is a Cryptic Pregnancy

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Cryptic pregnancy also called stealth pregnancy, flees conventional medical pregnancy tests. Anecdotal evidence suggests 1 in 475 women experience cryptic pregnancies making them uncommon but still rampant enough to be in a data book. If you are hoping to be pregnant it might be frustrating and you might become straight up convinced that you are. A stealth pregnancy can give you a ton of mixed emotions because this is where medical tests fail.

You will be confused and scared to find out that you are pregnant in your 7th, 8, or even 9th month. Some women with a cryptic pregnancy might be surprised with labor pain as their first symptoms of pregnancy.

In this article, we have brought to you the statistics, stories, and symptoms behind cryptic pregnancies. Let’s take a closer look at them!

First Things First, What is Cryptic Pregnancy?

Cryptic pregnancy is a term used by medical practitioners to describe a pregnancy that is unrecognized by the woman until she experiences labor or gives birth. The online use of the term also indicates a form of false pregnancy (otherwise called pseudocyesis) or delusional pregnancy.

The television show “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” shared stories of cryptic pregnancies and nearly all of the women had intermittent bleeding throughout their term which they misinterpreted as their menstrual cycle. So, let’s dive deep into the symptoms of cryptic pregnancies and understand their fatality factor.

Cryptic Pregnancy Symptoms: Are They Fatal?

You need to understand what a normal pregnancy looks like to understand how cryptic pregnancies can go undetected. Pregnancy symptoms become evident within 5 to 12 weeks of conception. Once you miss a period, a home pregnancy test will show the result as positive. A visit to the doctor will confirm the result with an ultrasound, a blood test, or a urine test.

Most people experience pregnancy symptoms such as swollen and tender breasts, nausea, fatigue, and mood swings during the early days of their first trimester. When the woman is having a cryptic pregnancy, no symptoms appear to alert her of a little human inside her. Even a pregnancy test will come back negative when you check after a missed period. You might dismiss early pregnancy symptoms as indigestion or stomach flu.

You might have been told that you are infertile or that your menstrual cycle is irregular which means pregnancy won’t be a possibility you will consider. If you are carrying but are unaware of it, missing the symptoms of pregnancy can confuse you further, more so if it’s your first time. Symptoms such as fetal movement, fatigue, and slight weight gain may be dismissed as lifestyle or dietary changes.

The main cause of a cryptic pregnancy is low levels of pregnancy hormones that are extremely mild or nearly impossible to notice. Here’s a look at the behind-the-scenes of cryptic pregnancies:

What Causes Cryptic Pregnancies?

Fluctuating hormones may cause bleeding in the uterus that might be mistaken for a menstrual cycle. The most common line of reasoning behind not taking a pregnancy test when you have missed your period is that your cycle may be irregular, to begin with. This is how many people go months without being unaware of their pregnancy. Here’s a list of conditions that are associated with cryptic pregnancies:

  • PCOS: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can limit a body’s fertility and create hormonal imbalances. This in turn leads to irregular or skipped periods.
  • Perimenopause: This is the time when your period begins to be less consistent. When it stops completely (marked by menopause) the body will show symptoms such as hormonal fluctuations and weight gain. These are also common symptoms of pregnancy making you doubt what is what.
  • IUDs and Birth control pills: These make one feel confident that pregnancy is impossible. While these are effective methods to prevent a pregnancy, there are instances when people have conceived even after placing an IUD or taking birth control pills.
  • Time after pregnancy and the next period: Since hormonal factors and breastfeeding can cause the body to delay ovulation and periods for several months after childbirth, women fall into the assumption that the symptoms are just body adjustments to its postpartum state. Yes, you can get pregnant during your postpartum stage and the symptoms might not be visible.
  • Athletic activity and low body fat: These two factors can make your periods disappear for months at a stretch. People participating in high-impact sports may have low levels of certain hormones which makes it harder for them to detect a pregnancy.

Cryptic Pregnancy Period

The answer to how long a cryptic pregnancy lasts comes from varied sources. It is difficult to accumulate data on this point because people aren’t aware of their pregnancy. They can only tell when their pregnancy has come to an end. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that cryptic pregnancies last longer than a typical pregnancy. This could perhaps be occurring because of low levels of pregnancy hormones.

On the other hand, the odds of preterm birth are high when people are unaware of their pregnancy because of a lack of prenatal care, lifestyle choice, and poor diet. There is no credible research that understands how cryptic pregnancies differ in their time frame.

Cryptic Pregnancy: Pregnancy Test Results

Pregnancy tests (even ultrasounds) can show a negative result in the case of a cryptic pregnancy. The reasons for such results differ from individual to individual but essentially the following applies:

  • PCOS: If you have the following conditions you are more likely to have fluctuating hormones:
  • absent or missed periods
  • Extremely athletic or active
  • Have recently given birth

The pregnancy hormone hCG may not be accumulating the way it should be if your uterus sheds partially or irregularly. hCG is the hormone that gives you a positive home pregnancy test.

  • Inconclusive ultrasound: Even an ultrasound may fail to detect pregnancy if it’s not looking at the right place. If a previous ultrasound has shown a growing fetus inside you, possibly the technician won’t spend a long time at the test the second time. If you have been approved to get an ultrasound even after a negative pregnancy test, your pregnancy won’t be showing up in your first trimester because:
  • The technician might have erred during the test
  • The shape of your uterus might not be favorable
  • There might be an irregularity in the embryo’s implantation

Cryptic Pregnancy: Labor and Delivery

Labor and delivery of cryptic pregnancies are similar to a normal pregnancy with all the typical contractions that feel like severe cramps as your cervix stretches to deliver the baby. Once your cervix becomes dilated enough, your body will feel the need to push the baby through the birthing canal.

The major difference between labor and birth for cryptic pregnancies is that you may not expect all of this to happen to lead to extreme psychological stress. You may also not have access to proper medical assistance during your delivery which adds to the distress. Go to a hospital’s emergency ward if you experience intense cramping that feels like contractions.

What are Some Real-life Examples of Cryptic Pregnancies?

Stories of cryptic pregnancies are uncommon but not unheard of. Medical literature points to one such story of a 23-year-old woman who visited the ER with lower back pain. After a routine pregnancy test came out positive, she was checked for an ectopic pregnancy. They discovered that she was 8 centimeters dilated (that is just about to give birth).

NBC reports several cases of cryptic pregnancies that happened in 2009. According to one such report, a woman was rushed to the ER with suspected appendicitis and went on to give birth to a healthy baby.

What’s The Outlook on Cryptic Pregnancies?

Case studies and news reports aside, not every cryptic pregnancy story has a happy ending. The best case scenarios reflect stories of cryptic pregnancies who went on to have a perfectly healthy life ahead without knowing that they were pregnant.

Some pregnancies go undetected just because the pregnant woman won’t acknowledge it. Such cases are impacted by outside factors such as chronic mental illness that has been aggravated by an unsupportive family or an abusive partner. There are also several cases of individuals becoming pregnant in their early teens when they have not yet grasped the symptoms of pregnancy.

The outlook for such cases of cryptic pregnancies where there is an extremely young person,  abuse, or mental health conditions is statistically hard to calculate. However, we can safely say that such cases of cryptic pregnancies do not end up in a healthy birth.

The biggest drawback of a cryptic pregnancy is not receiving proper prenatal care. This isn’t a danger in itself but ironically you can’t rule out danger without the required prenatal care. A study has pointed out that no prenatal care means your baby is far more likely to be born premature and underweight.

The Bottom Line on Cryptic Pregnancies

Cryptic pregnancies are a real thing that is somewhat misunderstood and uncommon. If you have reason to believe that you are pregnant, you should be aware of the conventional testing methods for the first trimester such as ultrasounds, urine tests, and blood tests. These methods give out accurate results that you can trust.

If your pregnancy symptoms continue after a negative result from a home test, get in touch with a doctor you trust to discuss your specific circumstances. Wait for a week or two to see if your symptoms disappear but do not delay seeking answers for months as that could harm your baby.

Remember that there are resources you could reach out to if you are in distress or feel like you simply can’t handle being pregnant. There is hope and you just cannot lose it because with the right medical advice whatever decision you make, you can be sure that it will be safe for you and your baby.

Cryptic Pregnancy FAQs:

1. What is a cryptic pregnancy?

Cryptic pregnancies are said to occur in women when they fail to realize that they are pregnant because of a lack of pregnancy hormones in their bodies. Such women might be unaware of their pregnancy until very late into the journey. Some know it only when they are about to give birth.

2. Do periods come in cryptic pregnancy?

Cryptic pregnancy is distinguished by pseudo-menstrual bleeding and the lack of typical pregnancy symptoms such as vomiting, sickness, and nausea. Generally, cryptic pregnancies remain undiscovered till the 20th week of pregnancy.

3. Can you feel kicks in a cryptic pregnancy?

The unmistakable signs of pregnancy (fatigue, morning sickness, baby bump, weight gain, edema, etc.) will be absent in cryptic pregnancies. The baby’s kicks will also not be felt during a cryptic pregnancy.

4. Can a pregnancy test detect a cryptic pregnancy?

A pregnancy test will show negative in a cryptic pregnancy and nothing sets off the usual chain of events that leads to the discovery that you are pregnant. Getting an ultrasound might, however, help, and that too after the 20th week only. A blood test is your sure shot method to confirm your pregnancy as it tests for the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in the blood.

5. Can a baby survive a cryptic pregnancy?

Research suggests that babies born from cryptic pregnancies are more likely to be premature and underweight. Cryptic pregnancies tend to last until the time of birth and the woman might have to deliver the baby with no medical assistance which can be risky for the mother and the child.

On behalf of the editorial team at Parenthoodbliss, we follow strict reporting guidelines and only use credible sources, along with peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and highly respected health organizations. To learn about how we maintain content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.

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