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Cryptic pregnancy, How you can be pregnant without knowing

Emeh Joy
By Emeh Joy

Basic Medical Scientist, Freelance Health Writer, Lifestyle Blogger and Business Enthusiast

What is cryptic pregnancy? Cryptic pregnancy is a pregnancy that presents without symptoms and sometimes, even the conventional testing methods may fail to detect it.

Cryptic pregnancy presents without symptoms, and sometimes, even the conventional testing methods fail to detect it. Cryptic pregnancy is also called stealth pregnancy. It is a rare one but not unheard of.

It does sound weird that a woman would be pregnant till even the third trimester without knowing, right? 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 woman to have a foetus growing within her and yet have no clue. You'd ask what happened to the early morning sickness, the weird food cravings, the weakness, all the pregnancy-associated symptoms?

Some people, especially in some countries such as Nigeria, would also doubt the possibility of such happening. Still, you would be shocked to know that there are cases of Cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria.

It will be noteworthy to state that 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 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 gets more interesting when doctors told her that she was carrying twins.

Dannette was prepped for labour, and she put to bed. She got the shocker when she got delivered of not just 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.

Cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria

Cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria and other African countries is a rare but possible phenomenon

Nigeria is a country located in West Africa, known to be the 'Giant of Africa'. There is a need for medical people living in sub-Saharan African countries like Nigeria to be aware of the possibility of cryptic pregnancy occurring.

Has there ever been a case of cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria? Yes, there have been reported cases of cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria.

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 aware of the possibility of cryptic pregnancy in females to reduce maternal and neonatal complications.

Symptoms of Cryptic Pregnancy

A fascinated reader would wonder if there is even as much as one particular symptom that could give a cryptic expectant mother a clue of her condition and get her prepared 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 who have their 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", she said.

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, and this makes 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.

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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?

When the female hormones fluctuate (just as in PCOS or amenorrhoea), there can be slight bleeding making one believe she is seeing her period.

And when one is seeing her period and is feeling almost normal, the person won't see the need to run a pregnancy test.

One of the reasons why cryptic pregnancies are not discovered is that women typically don't see the need to run pregnancy tests when there are no symptoms of pregnancy

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 and presents with the presence of cysts in the ovaries. It causes fluctuations in hormones and irregular periods.
  • Use of contraceptives- Birth control pills and IUDs make women so confident of not taking in. However, they do not offer 100% protection against pregnancy in some cases, and the woman could take it 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 the woman dismiss the symptom as just her body preparing for menopause.
  • Postpartum state- It is possible to get pregnant again after pregnancy, even before your period returns. Some women 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.

Also, some previous studies have suggested that women with cryptic pregnancy typically had some factors in common such as younger age, mental illnesses, learning disabilities, low-income family and social support and history of drugs.

Cryptic pregnancy and labour, any complications?

Women 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 women 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.

Cryptic pregnancy, in some ways can affect labour

Negative pregnancy test result due to Cryptic pregnancy

Aside from the fact that cryptic pregnancy presents without symptoms can also present false test results and diagnosis during the early stages, especially (cryptic pregnancy negative ultrasound).

One of the reasons 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 (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, a case of cryptic pregnancy negative ultrasound.

The takeaway

That cryptic pregnancy is rare doesn't mean it is not a real condition. It is just misunderstood because even science can't fully explain it.

If you are wondering if there could be cases of cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria, yes, that is very much possible.

Thus, if you have the slightest signs of pregnancy, experience some abnormalities, or feel that you are 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.

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