What Is Cryptic Pregnancy and What Are the Signs?

Cryptic pregnancy is a complex and often misunderstood phenomenon. It refers to when someone remains unaware of their pregnancy until the later stages or even until the moment of delivery. In this article, we delve into the intricacies of cryptic pregnancy, exploring its possible causes, risk factors, symptoms, and detection.

What Is Cryptic Pregnancy?

If you’ve been wondering whether you can be pregnant and not know, perhaps after a firsthand experience, you may want to know more about cryptic pregnancy. A cryptic pregnancy is one that goes unnoticed by the person who is pregnant for a considerable period of time.

So, how long can pregnancy hide itself, or how long can you be pregnant without knowing? A person might not know they’re pregnant until the late stages of pregnancy; occasionally, a person doesn’t realize they’re pregnant until delivery or shortly before it takes place. This type of pregnancy may also be known as stealth pregnancy or hidden pregnancy.

It’s hard to be precise about what constitutes a cryptic pregnancy, as the length of time a person can go through their pregnancy without knowing can vary from person to person.

However, many people discover they’re pregnant after their first missed period, which may not happen until about 4 weeks pregnant, or they find out when prompted by the arrival of pregnancy symptoms such morning sickness, which usually starts at around 4 to 9 weeks. But it’s important to remember that every pregnancy is different, so how and when you discover you’re pregnant may not be the same as it is for others.

How Common Is Cryptic Pregnancy?

Cryptic pregnancies are uncommon; however, because there’s no exact definition or timeline for cryptic pregnancy, there are no firm statistics.


Hidden Signs and Symptoms of Cryptic Pregnancy

Symptoms commonly associated with cryptic pregnancy are similar to those in a regular pregnancy, including nausea, fatigue, and breast tenderness. But when it comes to cryptic pregnancy, it’s natural to wonder, “Can you be pregnant with no symptoms?” or “Can you be pregnant with no symptoms except a missed period?”

In any pregnancy, a person may experience no clear early signs of pregnancy; in cryptic pregnancies, these symptoms may be absent or may be quite subtle, going unnoticed for an extended period of time. The person who’s pregnant may also not realize the symptoms they’re experiencing are associated with pregnancy. Some early signs of pregnancy may include the following:

Every pregnancy is unique, and not everyone experiences these early signs of pregnancy. As your pregnancy progresses, especially into the second trimester, you may experience more weight gain and possibly notice that a bump is starting to show. Belly size varies from person to person during pregnancy, which is why, in cryptic pregnancies, some people may not notice a bump or may attribute it to general weight gain or bloating.

Take a look at our visual below, which highlights some common signs of pregnancy. If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms and you suspect you may be pregnant, contact your healthcare provider to confirm.

Do You Still Get Your Period With Cryptic Pregnancy?

Menstruation, by definition, is the blood that's discharged from the uterus if a pregnancy does not occur, so no, you won’t get your period during any type of pregnancy, including cryptic pregnancy. If you didn’t know you were pregnant because you were getting what you thought was your period every month, that flow of blood may have been something else. Some pregnant people may experience period-like bleeding, such as spotting due to implantation bleeding or bleeding that's related to hormonal changes or other complications. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience unusual bleeding.

What Leads to Cryptic Pregnancy?

There are a number of factors that may contribute to a pregnancy going unnoticed for a longer time. Here are some possible scenarios that could result in a cryptic pregnancy:

  • Having irregular periods may make it difficult to track changes in menstrual cycles and to recognize pregnancy symptoms.

  • Experiencing no typical pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness or breast tenderness, or thinking that the symptoms they do have are linked to something else, such as nausea from eating a certain food or fatigue due to a busy lifestyle or lack of sleep.

  • Receiving false negative pregnancy test results—meaning the test says you're not pregnant when you actually are pregnant—can also play a role in cryptic pregnancy. Sometimes, a test may not accurately detect pregnancy hormones, leading to a delayed or missed diagnosis. False negatives often occur if a test is taken too early in pregnancy or is taken incorrectly. To be sure of your result, take another test after your missed period or visit your healthcare provider.

  • Experiencing lifestyle factors like stress, extreme weight loss or gain, and certain medications could potentially contribute to the confusion surrounding cryptic pregnancy.

  • Recently giving birth or using birth control, being diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) or perimenopause, or never having been pregnant before may all lead to mistaken pregnancy symptoms or the belief you can’t get pregnant.

How to Detect a Cryptic Pregnancy

Cryptic pregnancy can often go undetected for months, or even up until labor begins, due to factors such as subtle symptoms and inaccurate home pregnancy tests. A cryptic pregnancy can be detected or diagnosed through an ultrasound, blood test, or urine test.

If you are experiencing any symptoms of pregnancy, even if your home pregnancy test is negative, contact your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Cryptic Pregnancy Concerns

Depending on when you realize that you're pregnant and start seeing your healthcare provider, the prenatal care you receive with a cryptic pregnancy may be affected. It’s also possible that you might continue unhealthy habits, such as smoking and drinking alcohol, and not adjust your lifestyle accordingly. Prenatal care generally involves examinations, ultrasounds, and various tests to help make sure that you and your baby are healthy and safe.

Based on your stage of pregnancy, your healthcare provider will try to provide you with the best treatment and prenatal care possible once you discover you’re pregnant.

The Bottom Line

Cryptic pregnancy is a complex condition in which a pregnant person remains unaware of being pregnant until well into pregnancy or even until delivery. Understanding its characteristics, symptoms, and potential causes can help foster earlier detection and also help in providing appropriate healthcare for cryptic pregnancies.

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.