Cryptic pregnancy, How you can be pregnant without knowing

Do you know you can be pregnant for months without knowing? Cryptic pregnancy is pregnancy without usual symptoms, and sometimes, even the conventional testing methods may fail to detect it.

A man and his pregnant wife cuddling

Cryptic pregnancy is also called stealth pregnancy. It is a rare pregnancy situation but not unheard of. It is a 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 sounds weird that a person would be pregnant till even the third trimester without knowing. It is strange, but it happens. In fact, sometimes, the woman may only realize she is pregnant when she goes into labour. This phenomenon is called cryptic pregnancy.

Lots of questions have been asked. Some wonder how possible it is for a someone to have a foetus 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, all the pregnancy-associated symptoms?"

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

Note:

Cryptic or stealth pregnancy is not the same as 'phantom pregnancy'. Phantom pregnancy is when a woman gets all the pregnancy symptoms, but in reality, she 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 labour, and she was put to bed. She got the shocker when she got delivered of not even two 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 unveil 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 as much as one particular symptom could give a cryptic expectant mother a clue of her condition and prepare her for the incoming baby.

"What about baby movement?" one would ask.

Dr Christine Greves, an OB-GYN at the Centre for Obstetrics and Gynecology at Orlando Health, said not all babies move. Also, those with 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, the woman with stealth pregnancy may experience slight cramping and gas, but those are also symptoms of stomach or digestion problems. Thus, the woman may not suspect pregnancy.

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

Women 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 woman suspect pregnancy and go for a test. In most cases, labour pains are the first real sign of pregnancy.

Causes of cryptic pregnancy

"How can you be pregnant without symptoms? What are cryptic pregnancy causes? What causes stealth pregnancy? Are there cases of cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria; what causes it?" are different questions people ask.

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 make people go months without knowing they are pregnant.

However, some other cryptic pregnancy causes have been cited. Here are conditions that have higher chances of predisposing one to cryptic pregnancy:

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.

Use of contraceptives

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

Perimenopause

This 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.

Postpartum state

It is possible to get pregnant again after pregnancy, even before your period returns. Some people believe breastfeeding would prevent taking in again, 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 delayed onset of ovulation and period.

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Also, some previous studies have suggested that some people that experienced cryptic pregnancies typically had some things in common. Some things they have in common are younger age, mental illnesses, learning disabilities, low-income family and social support and history of drugs.

Cryptic pregnancy and labour, any complications?

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

Going into labour 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 diagnosis during the early stages (a situation also referred to as false negative pregnancy result).

One of the reasons for this is the hormonal factor. If you have irregular menstrual cycles or cases like PCOS, your hormonal levels 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 already read negative.

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