Cryptic Pregnancy

Denied pregnancy refers to the absence of awareness by a woman that she is pregnant until she delivers her baby. This may occur in 1 of 475 pregnant women.

Pregnancy test

Symptoms

Women with symptoms of denied or cryptic pregnancy may not have the usual symptoms of pregnancy such as nausea, vomiting, cessation of periods, and enlargement of the abdomen. The babies born to such mothers have a tendency to be small for gestational age. The pregnancy is undetected not only by the mother but by friends and relatives. Even medical personnel may be unaware of the woman’s pregnancy.

Causes

The most common explanation for a woman’s failure to realize that she is pregnant until she actually delivers a child is that she is psychologically not ready or willing to accept the pregnancy and its implications. Pregnancy involves many biological changes in the woman, as well as requiring preparation for birth and child care, which is based upon accepting the presence of the fetus and the changes that it brings about in the woman’s body and functioning.

Somatic Denial

Somatic denial is a popular concept evoked to explain the lack of symptoms, which means that the woman strongly though involuntarily denies the presence of any abnormality in her body or physiological functions. However, this does not explain how the woman continues to have regular monthly periods throughout the pregnancy.

Psychological conflict

However, there are other more basic explanations.

For example, when there is a conflict between a woman’s perceived best interests for herself and the existence of a pregnancy, deep psychological reactions may lead to cryptic pregnancy. On the one hand, denial of the pregnancy can bring down the level of expenditure by the mother. She will not have to invest energy or adjustment resources on the pregnancy.

These may be in the form of having to limit mobility, depending on others for support, or limiting one’s work habits or substance use. This denial brings about an adaptation which favors the mother’s health and habits over the growth of the fetus.

This correlates with the very low or indiscernible levels of hCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) found in the woman’s blood. Even when the hormone levels are increased, it may not have the normal effects on the body of the woman, leading to a prolonged and slow-growing gestation.

Suggested hypotheses include the following:

  • Failure to adapt to this conflict, which results in the woman using resources for her rather than for the baby’s wellbeing.
  • Spontaneous abortion of an abnormal fetus that was ‘missed,’ or not clinically evident.
  • The environment is one of great stress or danger to the mother and child, as when resources are scant, or support is lacking. In this case, the fetus ‘cooperates’ to the biological signals by growing very slowly and producing minimal symptoms and signs of the pregnancy, thus reducing the energy and health resources the mother is required to invest in the pregnancy. This helps both of them to maximize their chances of the survival by bringing the mother to the point of delivery.

Risks

The mother does not usually have any prenatal care. The delivery is usually at home or unassisted.

Any prenatal complications such as blood group incompatibility, hypertension, or diabetes, may go undetected and put the mother and baby at risk.

The mother may practice dangerous behaviors such as alcohol or substance abuse because of the lack of awareness of the fetus.

Outcome

In most cases of cryptic pregnancy, the baby is born alive and healthy, with the woman realizing that she is pregnant only when she gives birth. Adjustment problems are thus a possibility, though rare.

Prevention

If a woman in the reproductive age group persistently feels even minor symptoms relating to the abdomen or pelvis, it is advisable to meet a health care professional, who should test for pregnancy among other options, even if the possibility is strongly denied.

Reviewed by Yolanda Smith, BPharm

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16997498
  2. http://www.pregnancycorner.com/being-pregnant/cryptic-pregnancy.html
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21446106

Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 3, 2017

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Comments

  1. mizt 60 mizt 60 United States says:

    I applaud someone in the medical field for finally admitting that cryptic pregnancies do exist. However, it's just like the medical field to always blame the patient for why it happens instead of taking time to find the REAL reason. My daughter has been going through it to get the doctors to believe she is pregnant. She has been to 4 doctors, 3 of them OB/GYNs. 3 doctors told her it's all in her head, 2 asked does she WANT TO BE pregnant...but she was already 6 months along. The last one we saw last month could actually SEE the baby MOVING! But because it didn't show on the ultrasound she said she medically or legally call it a pregnancy! So NO, IT'S not JUST WOMEN TRYING TO DENY THEY ARE PREGNANT! IT'S doctors who REFUSE to do ANYTHING BEYOND the standard testing either because they are full of themselves or afraid their malpractice insurance will go up if they go beyond standard treatment. In the meantime my daughter can get prenatal care, lost her job because without a doctor to say she is pregnant she couldn't get FMLA so she had to quit or be terminated and she is in limbo with no due date. Thank God for nurses who told us how to keep both her and the baby healthy. Just think how many pregnant women are forced into this position by the medical practices who think it's all the patients fault!

  2. Tiffany Roquemore Tiffany Roquemore United States says:

    hello, i havent has a period since march. i used the ovia app to track my periods, and i am very regular. i have one son who is 5. negative urine test and blood test at dr . dr told me it is impossible to get a negative blood test if you are pregnant. but i saw about cryptic pregnancies on dr oz and many other places on the web. i mentioned this to my dr and he said anyone who said they got a negative blood test and turned out to be pregnant was a liar. but i dont believe him.
    i really do not know what to do. i am not on birth control. me and my husband do not use protection. i do not have any health issues. at the pap smear the dr said he didnt feel any cysts because i had thought maybe i had one and thats why i missed my period. i dont know what to do.  im really needing to know so i do not smoke or drink alcohol. i am already taking prenatals for about 2 months because i wanted it to help my hair grow faster. what should i do next? i feel like im going crazy. i dont really have much symptoms only heartburn and cravings.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
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