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Cryptic pregnancy, How you can be pregnant without knowing

Cryptic pregnancy is pregnancy without symptoms, and sometimes, even the conventional testing methods may fail to detect it. Learn about cryptic pregnancy, its causes and symptoms.

A man and his pregnant wife cuddling

Cryptic pregnancy is also called stealth pregnancy. It is a rare pregnancy situation whereby a person is pregnant but is unaware of the pregnancy until about the second or third trimester as the pregnancy does not present with usual symptoms.

It might sound strange that a person would be pregnant until the third trimester without knowing. But, it does happen. Some people find out they are pregnant when they are already in the labor room. This phenomenon is called cryptic pregnancy.

Lots of questions have been asked. Some wonder how possible it is for someone to have a fetus growing in them yet have no clue. You would want to ask, "What happened to the early morning sickness, the weird food cravings, the weakness, and all the pregnancy-associated symptoms?"

Many people, especially in countries like Nigeria (where there is scarce or no documentation of cryptic pregnancy cases), doubt the possibility of such a thing happening. Yet, you would be shocked to know that there are more cases of cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria than are documented.

Note:

Cryptic or stealth pregnancy is not the same as 'phantom pregnancy'. Phantom pregnancy is when a person gets all the pregnancy symptoms, but, in reality, is not pregnant, which can carry on beyond nine months.

How can you be pregnant and not know?

An article published on Today.com told the story of Dannette Giltz, who woke up one morning to the feeling of sharp pains in her sides and back. She thought it was a case of kidney stones because the pain was indeed severe and debilitating.

She was rushed to the hospital, only to get the surprising diagnosis that she was pregnant. It doesn't even end there. It got more interesting when doctors told her that she was carrying twins.

Dannette was prepped for labor, and she was put to bed. She got a shock when she delivered not one but three babies.

How do you explain being pregnant to full term with three babies without knowing that you are pregnant? It's a mystery that would need more research to unravel and understand better.

If you have watched TV shows like MTV's "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant", you would see other extreme cases of this condition.

Are there cases of cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria?

Though rare, cryptic pregnancy can occur in different regions, including Africa

Nigeria is a country located in West Africa, known to be the 'Giant of Africa'. Even though health professionals living in sub-Saharan African countries like Nigeria don't usually talk about cases like cryptic pregnancy, such cases do exist.

There have been reported cases of cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria even though such cases have been rare.

An article published in Pan African Medical Journal presented a 19-year old overweight Nigerian student admitted to the school clinic with a 3-day history of abdominal discomfort, lower back pain, and constipation.

When asked if she was pregnant, she vehemently said no, adding that she regularly sees her period. However, after running abdominal examinations, results showed she was 36 weeks pregnant with a fully dilated cervix.

Though rare, cryptic pregnancy is a possible phenomenon in Nigeria and other African countries. Thus, it is important for medical practitioners in this region to be fully concious of the possibility of cryptic pregnancy in females to reduce maternal and neonatal complications.

Symptoms of Cryptic Pregnancy

A fascinated reader would wonder if even one particular symptom could give a cryptic pregnant person a clue about their condition and prepare them for the incoming baby.

"What about baby movement?" one would ask.

Dr. Christine Greves, an OB-GYN at the Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology at Orlando Health, said not all babies move. Also, those with a placenta attached to the front of the uterus are less likely to tell when the baby is moving.

"Sometimes you don't feel it that much", Dr. Greves told Today.

On some occasions, a person with stealth pregnancy may experience slight cramping and gas, but those are also symptoms of stomach or digestion problems. Thus, they may not suspect pregnancy.

Dr. Christine added that even experts have only a little knowledge about cryptic pregnancies. Some people who have experienced it also said their periods never stopped, and they did not gain any weight.

People with cryptic pregnancies are likely not to experience the typical pregnancy symptoms, or they might get just a vague symptom, making it even harder for doctors to make a correct diagnosis.

With cryptic pregnancy, there is the absence of a series of events that makes a person suspect pregnancy and go for a test. In most cases, labor pains are the first real sign of pregnancy.

Causes of cryptic pregnancy

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

When the female hormones fluctuate (just as in PCOS or amenorrhoea), there can be slight bleeding making some people believe they are seeing their period. And when people seemly seeing their period regularly feel normal, they won't see the need to run a pregnancy test.

This is one of the contributing factors that makes people go months without knowing they are pregnant.

However, some other cryptic pregnancy causes have been cited. Here are some factors that can contribute to cryptic pregnancy:

1. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

This is a hormonal condition that can severely limit one's fertility. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is characterized by the presence of cysts in the ovaries. It causes fluctuations in hormones and irregular periods.

2. Use of contraceptives

Birth control pills and IUDs make people confident that they won't get pregnant. However, birth controls don't offer 100% protection against pregnancy in some cases, and someone using them could get pregnant without knowing.

3. Perimenopause

Perimenopause is the period just before the onset of menopause and is marked by a less consistent menstrual cycle. Pregnancy symptoms can mimic perimenopause symptoms like hormone fluctuations and weight gain, making a person dismiss the symptom as just their body preparing for menopause.

4. Postpartum state

It is possible to get pregnant again after pregnancy, even before your period returns. Some people believe breastfeeding would prevent conception, but that isn't always the case.

Such a person might get pregnant and assume it's just the body getting adjusted to the postpartum state when they have a delayed onset of ovulation and period.

Also, some previous studies have suggested that some people who experienced cryptic pregnancies typically had some things in common. Some things they have in common are younger ages, mental illnesses, learning disabilities, low-income families, and social support, and a history of drug use.

Cryptic pregnancy and labor, any complications?

People who have no idea of their pregnancy state may deliver unexpectedly, sometimes without assistance or appropriate assistance.

Going into labor without assistance can be dangerous not only for the baby but also for the mother, leading to fatal complications.

Also, finding out late that they are pregnant can leave cryptic pregnant people frustrated and emotionally disturbed. There are cases where, after giving birth, they dissociate from their baby, leading to an increased risk of child neglect and abuse.

Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash

Negative pregnancy test result due to cryptic pregnancy

Aside from the fact that cryptic pregnancy presents without symptoms, it can also present with false test results and diagnoses during the early stages (a situation also referred to as a false negative pregnancy result).

One of the reasons for this is the hormonal factor. If you have irregular menstrual cycles or a condition like PCOS, your hormonal levels will most likely fluctuate.

This could cause the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (HCG), a pregnancy hormone, not to accumulate sufficiently to give a positive home pregnancy test.

There is also the possibility of getting an inconclusive ultrasound. The ultrasound technician may not look in the right place, especially when they know your previous test has already read negative.

It is also possible that the pregnancy will go unnoticed, especially when it's still in the first trimester and there is an irregularity in embryo implantation or the shape of the uterus. This can lead to a cryptic pregnancy or a negative ultrasound.

Conclusion

Cryptic pregnancy is rare but real. It is misunderstood because even science can't fully explain it.

Therefore, if you have the slightest signs of pregnancy, experience some abnormalities, or feel pregnant, you should talk to your doctor.

You might have done the home pregnancy test, and it turned out negative; it still won't hurt to see a doctor and get yourself properly checked out.