What Is a Cryptic Pregnancy?

When someone is pregnant and they don't know it

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A cryptic pregnancy is one in which a person does not know they are pregnant until about halfway through pregnancy or even up until labor or birth.

They may have slight symptoms of pregnancy that are easy to overlook or no symptoms at all—including no baby bump. Others may not realize they are pregnant because of a mental health or medical condition that either masks pregnancy symptoms or leaves in them in denial about the pregnancy (or the possibility of getting pregnant in the first place).

This article goes over the signs, symptoms, and causes of a cryptic pregnancy. It also covers the complications of a cryptic pregnancy and how to cope if you experience one.

What to Know About a Cryptic Pregnancy - Illustration by Jessica Olah

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Symptoms of a Cryptic Pregnancy

A person experiencing a cryptic pregnancy may note that they did not have any of the usual signs or symptoms of pregnancy. However, that does not mean there were no signs of pregnancy—they just might have been so few or so vague that they went unnoticed or ignored.

For example, a person experiencing a cryptic pregnancy may not have any of the typical pregnancy symptoms like fatigue; nausea and vomiting ("morning sickness"); missed periods, and abdominal swelling.

If they did have these symptoms but they were not very bad, a person may not have given them much thought. For example, they wrote off morning sickness as an upset stomach or not getting their period as having an irregular menstrual cycle.

When a person doesn't link these signs and symptoms to pregnancy, they aren't prompted to take a pregnancy test or talk to their provider—even if they could be pregnant.

How Common Are Cryptic Pregnancies?

As many as 1 in 475 pregnancies go undetected or unnoticed until the 20-week (five-month) mark. One in 2,500 pregnancies goes unrecognized until a person goes into labor.

How Do Cryptic Pregnancies Happen?

Someone being pregnant and not knowing it seems like an impossibility to many. The lack of discussion and research on the topic continues to contribute to unawareness of this uncommon, but real situation. It also fuels stigma around cryptic pregnancies.

There is no one thing that explains a cryptic pregnancy. However, experts think some of the following factors contribute to a person not realizing they are pregnant:

  • Lack of pregnancy symptoms: Common pregnancy symptoms like nausea, pelvic cramping, lower back pain, and a bigger abdomen do not always show up in every person. Each person can also experience pregnancy symptoms to different degrees and at different times.
  • Irregular menstrual cycle: Irregular periods can make it hard to know whether you've missed a period. This is especially true if your menstrual cycle is longer than the average 28 days. For someone who may not experience as many periods per year, the absence of a period may not be an immediate red flag for pregnancy.
  • Intermittent spotting: Bleeding and spotting that can occur during pregnancy can easily be mistaken for a light period.
  • Age and fertility: Pregnancy symptoms can be similar to early menopause symptoms. If you've struggled with getting pregnant in the past, you may find it hard to believe that you could be pregnant.
  • Inaccurate pregnancy test results: Pregnancy tests are usually very accurate, but errors do happen—especially if a person does not test the right way or at the best time. It is possible for a pregnancy test to be negative even when a person is actually pregnant.
  • No prominent “baby bump:” A pregnant belly might not be obvious on someone who carries more weight in their abdomen. Some people do not gain much weight or start to "show" until later in pregnancy.
  • Not feeling the baby move: The location of the fetus and placenta can sometimes make it hard to feel movement. For example, with anterior placenta placement, the placenta is in the front of the uterus. When this happens, may take longer to feel fetal movements and they can be trickier to recognize.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): PCOS can cause hormonal imbalances that throw off ovulation. This can lead to an unexpected pregnancy that may go unnoticed.
  • Birth control use: Even when used correctly, it's possible to become pregnant when you're on birth control. People using contraception may not think they could be pregnant and ignore the signs.
  • Recent pregnancy: Ovulation can occur sooner than you'd think after you've had a baby. That said, the early signs of pregnancy may not be as clear in someone who recently gave birth.
  • Mental health conditions: Some research has suggested that people with certain mental health conditions may find it harder to comprehend and accept the reality of pregnancy. They might be in denial or not understand that they are pregnant.

Cryptic Pregnancy Concerns

Not recognizing pregnancy—even just for a short time—can be dangerous for both the fetus and the pregnant person. If a person does not realize they're pregnant, they won't get the prenatal care that is necessary for a safe and healthy pregnancy.

They also won't have the usual prenatal tests done. Without those tests, a healthcare provider won’t have important information about the health of the fetus or the pregnant person.

Without that testing, serious prenatal complications—such as high blood pressure (hypertension), gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia—could go unnoticed.

If cryptic pregnancy lasts up until the time of birth, a person may not realize that they are in labor. If they don't get to a hospital, they may even have to deliver the baby on their own without any help.

Research has shown that babies born after a cryptic pregnancy might be more likely to be underweight and born prematurely.

If a person who did not know they were pregnant consumed substances like alcohol or tobacco or certain medications, damage to the fetus could lead to birth defects.

Coping With a Cryptic Pregnancy

Not knowing you are pregnant until the 20-week mark or later is incredibly stressful. You might feel confused, overwhelmed, rushed, worried, or even cheated out of having the pregnancy experience.

You should know that while it can be challenging, it's possible to have a healthy pregnancy and birth even if you didn't learn that you were pregnant until later.

If your cryptic pregnancy is diagnosed before you go into labor, you still have time to talk to your provider about prenatal care. They can offer support and help you better understand your situation and the road ahead.

Giving birth is a major event—especially when you haven't been planning for it for months. The same is true of becoming a parent.

Anxiety, doubt, and exhaustion after having a baby are normal. You may have even started having these emotions while you were still pregnant.

However, if you have irritability, sadness, persistent doubts about caring for your baby, loss of interest in the activities that you used to love, and do not feel like you can bond with your baby, talk to your provider right away.

If you have perinatal depression or postpartum depression, know that these conditions are common and can be treated.

Summary

A cryptic pregnancy is one in which a person is not aware that they are pregnant until they are at least five months along.

It is not known exactly what causes cryptic pregnancies. Certain factors like having an irregular menstrual cycle or getting a false negative pregnancy test can make it more likely to happen.

Cryptic pregnancies can also happen if a person does not have the usual symptoms of pregnancy, or they are so mild that they are ignored or chalked up to something else.

Additionally, a person's anatomy might mean that they don't get a typical "baby bump" or start to show, which are big clues that they are pregnant.

Sometimes, having certain medical or mental health conditions contribute to cryptic pregnancies.

Once a cryptic pregnancy is detected, prenatal care is the number one priority. This helps to make sure that the pregnant person and fetus can be as healthy and prepared as possible for delivery. However, in some cases, a cryptic pregnancy is not discovered until a person gives birth.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long can a cryptic pregnancy last?

    A cryptic pregnancy can last almost half of someone's pregnancy or longer.

  • Do you get your period with a cryptic pregnancy?

    You won't menstruate if you're pregnant, but you may have spotting that is confused for a period. For example, some people get light bleeding when the fertilized egg implants into the uterus (implantation bleeding).

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cristina Mutchler
Cristina Mutchler is an award-winning journalist with more than a decade of experience in national media, specializing in health and wellness content.