What is a Cryptic Pregnancy?

A cryptic pregnancy, also known as a stealth pregnancy, is when a woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant. Perhaps conventional testing methods failed to detect the pregnancy or she doesn’t notice she is experiencing symptoms of early pregnancy.

Research estimates 1 out of 475 pregnancies may go undetected or unnoticed until she’s about 20-weeks pregnant. One is 2,500 stealth pregnancies aren’t recognized until she goes into labor.

What are the symptoms of a cryptic pregnancy?

The symptoms of a cryptic pregnancy are the same as those of a regular pregnancy. The difference is she doesn’t recognize those symptoms as being related to pregnancy.

  • Missed period. This is the key early sign of pregnancy. About 30 percent of women have irregular periods and some to the extent they only have a few periods a year. So it’s not unusual for her not to have a period for a month or two. If she doesn’t know she’s missed her period, it won’t occur to her to take a pregnancy test.
  • Few or no pregnancy symptoms. It’s easy to dismiss signs of pregnancy such as nausea, cramping, backaches, especially if she’s never been pregnant. She may attribute these symptoms to being sick, or changes in her diet or lifestyle.
  • Intermittent spotting. Some women may have occasional spotting throughout pregnancy, which could be mistaken for a light period.
    Inaccurate pregnancy test. Most pregnancy tests are reliable, but using them correctly is essential. Like testing with first-of-the-morning urine so the test can detect the hCG hormone. The American Pregnancy Association recommends waiting until 7 days after a missed period to test.
  • What baby bump? If she’s overweight she may not notice abdominal swelling or may not think her weight gain is anything out of the ordinary.
  • Baby movement. The baby’s position may sometimes make it hard to feel its movement. If the placenta is in the front of the uterus, it may take longer to feel the movements and they may be harder to recognize. She may consider it gas or upset stomach.

Who is likely to have a cryptic pregnancy?

  • Women who recently gave birth. Even if she just had a baby, it’s possible for ovulation to restart sooner than she expected. She’s probably not expecting her period yet so she may assume any weight gain or abdominal swelling are from the previous pregnancy.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). If they’ve been diagnosed with PCOS or infertility, they won’t think they’re pregnant now.
    Birth control use: Birth control isn’t always foolproof. Even when used correctly, it’s possible to become pregnant. Those who use birth control may assume they’re safe and ignore pregnancy symptoms.
  • Perimenopause. Women in their late 30s or early 40s could mistake pregnancy symptoms with early menopause. They might also think that their chances of conceiving are lower because of their age.

What are the complications associated with a stealth pregnancy?

  • No prenatal care. When a woman doesn’t realize she is pregnant, she doesn’t receive the prenatal medical care, nutrition and support needed for a healthy pregnancy.
  • Management of medical conditions. She doesn’t receive medical tests and evaluations that can prevent or manage maternal health issues such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia or genetic conditions that can affect the baby.
  • Lifestyle adjustments. She doesn’t know she needs to avoid harmful practices such as consuming alcohol or tobacco. She doesn’t have medical advice about safe medications and supplements.
  • Research suggests babies born from a cryptic pregnancy may be more likely to be underweight and born prematurely.
  • If cryptic pregnancy lasts up until the time of birth, the woman may not realize she is in labor when it begins and might have to deliver the baby without any help.

Do you think you have a cryptic pregnancy?

If you are sexually active and are experiencing symptoms unusual for you (weight gain, breast tenderness, missed period) take a pregnancy test or consult your healthcare provider. By taking care of your health, you can better ensure the health of your baby.


Healthline.com: What are Symptoms of a Cryptic Pregnancy?
Cleveland Clinic: Can You Be Pregnant and Not Know It?
PubMed Central, National Institutes of Health