An overview of ‘cryptic’ pregnancy

When a woman is unaware that she is pregnant this is known as a cryptic pregnancy. One in four hundred and fifty women reported not knowing they are pregnant until the twentieth week or later. And one in two thousand five hundred women are unaware of their pregnancy until labor starts.

While it is possible to confirm or deny pregnancy with other medical intervention, the problem with this is women who have no clue that they are pregnant or even could be pregnant won’t seek out further testing. Most women will grab a pregnancy test if they even suspect they could be pregnant. But if the test was negative, the woman will believe the result and get back to living her life. While it might seem as though women in this situation are mentally ill, or having a clear case of severe denial, this is likely to not be true. Five percent of women who did not know they were pregnant had schizophrenia and eight percent were found to have some type of personality disorder.

Apparently this condition has nothing to do with denial or a mental illness of some kind; it is a condition that has yet to be fully explained and it is extremely rare. It is only a small amount of cryptic pregnancies that are attributed to personality disorders or schizophrenia. It would appear that women with this condition are sane and well educated. They just do not know they are pregnant. They have no symptoms, no weight gain, no nausea, and very little abdomen swelling. They may still be having periods or have always had irregular periods. If they do suffer from any symptoms, they are likely to be so mild or be mistaken for something else, such as indigestion. There are very real and valid reasons for this happening and it is linked to a mother’s stress levels.

Pregnancy can be a tug of war between the mother and fetus for the mother’s limited resources. The following explanation by Marco Del Giudice, cognitive scientist at the University of Turin is that; most of the time the balance between nourishment for the fetus and mother works in the way it should biologically. But, sometimes the fetus takes nutrients from the mother, the mother holds back but not in a way that would harm the fetus. The fetus may hold back from demanding too much nourishment due certain factors.

Del Giudice has gone on to say that embryos and fetuses let their mother’s know they are there and need nourishment by releasing a hormone known as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). This hormone needs to be present in urine to activate a home pregnancy test kit to turn positive. If the fetus is not producing enough then the pregnancy may fall “under the radar” and the pregnancy test may fail and remain undetected by the mother for a considerable amount of time. When a fetus does not release enough HCG, he or she will receive fewer resources or nutrients from the mother, this is why some babies are born preterm or under weight. This is the explanation for small babies, when there does not seem to be a medical reason for the preterm labor occurring or that the baby is so small or underweight.

There are a few factors as to why a fetus may not be producing enough of the pregnancy hormone. Chromosomal anomalies could be one reason; this means that the fetus has a birth defect. Genetics could also play a part; a healthy fetus might put out a low amount of the hormone due to a genetic problem.

Stress could be another reason. According to another theory, a fetus might release less HCG because the mother is dealing with a lot of stress. It is better from the point of view of the fetus for the mother to be oblivious to the fact that she is pregnant, as that might cause more stress. Sometimes the stress of being pregnant and other life stress can lead to a miscarriage.

Del Giudice further pointed out that in our evolutionary past a woman who did not know she was pregnant and was not suffering through the unpleasant symptoms of pregnancy was able to conserve precious energy. She was free to move around wherever she pleased and could eat the food that she chose to. This strategy possibly is not good for the fetus when things in the mother’s life are good. When we are aware of the pregnancy we change our lifestyle accordingly, eat better and evidence will tell us that this helps when growing a healthy and happy, full size and full term. When a woman goes through hard times, relationship stress and the like, the fetus may release less HCG, or the stressed mother might be less sensitive to the HCG hormone.

Therefore this can be seen that a cryptic pregnancy is an adaptive “emergency” mechanism, which means that the fetus can sense a threat and the basic instinct to survive kicks in. The fetus chooses to demand little from the mother to ensure his or her chances of being born. So the moral of this story is: Don’t be so sure when your pregnancy test turns out to be negative. The pregnancy may not become obvious until month and months after conception.