If you’ve ever seen an episode of “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant”, you might be familiar with the terms “cryptic pregnancy” or “stealth pregnancy.” Which is when someone is pregnant but doesn’t know until late into the pregnancy or until labor starts. While stories about them often make big headlines (and TikToks), the reality is that they’re relatively uncommon.
But we still have questions about them. So we turned to board-certified OB-GYNs Dr. Amy Addante, Dr. Staci Tanouye, and Dr. Kristen Venuti to understand how and why cryptic pregnancies happen.
Back up. Can you really be pregnant and not know?
Yes. It’s estimated that one in 2,500 women don’t know they’re pregnant until they go into labor. “It's few and far between, but I've seen it happen,” said Dr. Venuti.
What causes cryptic pregnancies?
A cryptic pregnancy can happen when someone…
Has irregular periods. Irregular periods are common with people who are really athletic, or people who have certain conditions that affect their cycle, like PCOS. And if someone doesn’t have regular cycles, they might not notice a missed period.
Doesn’t notice or experience symptoms of pregnancy. Or assumes they’re due to something else (like implantation bleeding that resembles a period or nausea that feels like the flu).
Doesn’t develop an obvious or noticeable baby bump. “A lot of first time moms, you can't even tell they're pregnant until after 20 weeks,” she said. “I've seen people who might just think they're just putting on a couple pounds.” A number of factors could cause the baby bump to slip under the radar. Such as: Age, body shape, if they had a premature birth, or if they had a smaller baby, she said.
Doesn’t feel the baby move. Which can happen if the placenta is positioned in a way “that acts like a pillow when the baby moves,” Dr. Tanouye said. “So it cushions and blunts [its] movements more.”
Someone’s in “extremes of age,” said Dr. Addante. Think: Teenagers or women approaching menopause. It’s common for someone to have irregular cycles when they first start getting their periods, or when they’re nearing menopause, she said.
Gets a false negative on a pregnancy test. And moves on with the assumption that they’re not pregnant.
Struggles with fertility. If someone thinks that pregnancy isn’t a possibility for them, they might not recognize the symptoms.
Wait. Could I be having a cryptic pregnancy?
Chances are, probably not. Because it’s rare. But someone who is unaware that they’re pregnant might not know they need to adjust their lifestyle (example: stop drinking) or get the necessary care. “We want people to enter prenatal care early in their first trimester whenever possible,” said Dr. Addante. “Just to make sure that we are maximizing the health outcomes of their pregnancy.”
Tracking your period, staying in tune with how your body feels, and using a reliable form of contraception (think: IUDs, birth control pills, or condoms) may help mitigate the risk, the docs said. And according to Dr. Addante, “if you start feeling something move inside you, take a pregnancy test.”
While TV shows, TikTok, and big headlines can make them seem common, cryptic pregnancies are rare. But if you feel like something is off (or if you think you’re experiencing pregnancy symptoms) always check in with your doctor first. And stop rewatching old episodes of "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant."
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