For many, pregnancy symptoms are known even before those two pink lines are revealed. So how can you be pregnant and not know it? Cryptic pregnancies or stealth pregnancies can be a reality for unknowingly expectant parents. It’s helpful to understand how common cryptic pregnancy is, whether there are no pregnancy symptoms, and what might cause a cryptic pregnancy.
What is a Cryptic Pregnancy?
A cryptic pregnancy, sometimes called a stealth pregnancy, is when a person becomes pregnant unintentionally and does not realize they are pregnant.1,2
Many signs and symptoms generally accompany pregnancy. For those who experience a cryptic pregnancy, there may be no pregnancy symptoms or symptoms thought to be caused by another illness or condition.2
How Common are Cryptic Pregnancies?
The rate of cryptic pregnancies is more common than you may think. About one person in every 475 pregnancies does not realize they are pregnant until over 30 weeks gestation. In rarer instances, about one in every 2,500 do not realize they are pregnant until labor begins.2 Quite the surprise!
How Can Someone Not Know They’re Pregnant?
Some signs and symptoms of pregnancy can be attributed to other conditions or general illnesses, so some people may fail to recognize hidden signs. Once explained, though, it is easy to understand how a stealth pregnancy can occur.
Here are some conditions that may hide the fact that someone is pregnant.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is one of the most significant causes of infertility. PCOS has many symptoms, including irregular or missed periods due to lack of ovulation. Inconsistent periods and ovulation can make it more difficult to anticipate a pregnancy.4
Irregular Periods or Amenorrhea
Menstrual cycles can last 23 to 35 days. Irregular periods that show up early or come late are common for many. Some menstruating people experience amenorrhea or no period at all. This inconsistency can have several causes, but menstrual cycle irregularities can make achieving or detecting a pregnancy much more difficult.8
Infertility and Miscarriages
A history of infertility or recurrent miscarriages places a heavy mental and physical toll on expectant parents. This situation may lead the hopefully expectant parents to believe or fear that they cannot become pregnant. This can lead to pregnancy denial and not recognizing that they have become pregnant.10
Recent Childbirth and Lactational Amenorrhea
Your first period or two after childbirth may be unpredictable and irregular, especially if you are breastfeeding. Lactational amenorrhea describes the lack of a period due to breastfeeding or lactation and is considered a non-hormonal birth control method. But, it is not foolproof, especially if you supplement with formula, start solids, or decrease the number of breastfeeding sessions.7
Perimenopause and Menopause
The beginning of menopause or perimenopause is an intense time of reproductive and hormonal changes. Symptoms include irregular periods and decreased ovulation. While fertility may decrease, conception during this time is certainly still possible. Some perimenopausal people may believe pregnancy is impossible, therefore missing the signs of pregnancy or attributing symptoms to menopausal transition.5
Birth control, hormonal and non-hormonal, provides a blanket of reassurance that pregnancy is not possible. Even when used perfectly – which does not always happen, let’s be honest – birth control can still fail and result in a pregnancy. Some birth control methods lead to light or no menstrual bleeding. This bleeding, or lack thereof, may be mistaken as normally expected when it is bleeding during pregnancy.6
Lifestyle and Demographics
Studies have shown that cryptic pregnancy occurs more often in several demographic categories:1
- Young age
- Lack of education
- Lack of employment
- Unstable relationship status
- History of mental illness
- Pill-based contraception
Cryptic Pregnancy Symptoms
Symptoms of a cryptic pregnancy are the same as any pregnancy:3
- Missed period
- Spotting or light bleeding
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swollen or tender breasts
- Weight gain or bloated belly
- Mood swings
- Increased urination
- Fetal movement
A person experiencing a cryptic pregnancy may not recognize their pregnancy symptoms because they are unaware of the signs or mistake the symptoms for another cause. Having just a few or no pregnancy symptoms is also possible, especially in earlier trimesters.3
Can You Be Pregnant and Still Have a Period?
Technically, no. You cannot be pregnant and have a period. However, there are a few reasons for bleeding during pregnancy that you may mistake for a period. Some causes of bleeding during pregnancy are serious, while others are not:9
- Implantation spotting. This can be easily mistaken as a light period.
- Bleeding after intercourse. During pregnancy, the cervix gains more blood vessels and is more prone to bleeding.
- Early pregnancy loss. Miscarriages can be characterized by vaginal bleeding and cramping.
- Ectopic pregnancy. When the fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus.
- Placental complications such as placenta previa, placenta accreta, or placental abruption.
How to Detect a Cryptic Pregnancy
Do you suspect you may be pregnant after reviewing the signs and symptoms? These clues should lead you to take a pregnancy test or speak with your gynecological provider. They can confirm your pregnancy or evaluate your symptoms for other causes.
False negative pregnancy tests are common, primarily due to user error, and can result in a cryptic pregnancy.11
Missed pregnancy symptoms, hidden pregnancy signs, or no pregnancy symptoms can result in a cryptic pregnancy in anyone of childbearing age. An unplanned or unperceived pregnancy can be an overwhelming experience once discovered. If a cryptic pregnancy is a reality for you or someone you know, seeking emotional and physical support from all the available resources is essential.