Cryptic Pregnancy

A cryptic pregnancy is when you don’t know you’re pregnant. It can happen to people who have irregular periods, don’t know the common signs of pregnancy or get a negative result on a pregnancy test.


Ultrasound of a fetus inside a uterus.
A cryptic pregnancy is when you don’t know you’re pregnant. In most cases, you realize you’re pregnant around 20 weeks into the pregnancy.

What is a cryptic pregnancy?

A cryptic pregnancy (or stealth pregnancy) is when a pregnant person doesn’t know they’re pregnant. In some cases, a person may only realize they’re pregnant because labor begins.

Most people realize they’re pregnant somewhere between four and 12 weeks of pregnancy. This could be because they have symptoms of pregnancy or because they missed their period. A positive result on a pregnancy test can confirm pregnancy. With a cryptic pregnancy, nothing triggers a person to believe they’re pregnant. This could be because they don’t have symptoms of pregnancy or mistake symptoms of pregnancy as a virus, or their pregnancy test result was wrong.


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Who is at risk for a cryptic pregnancy?

Anyone can have a cryptic pregnancy. You may be at higher risk if you:

  • Recently gave birth: After you give birth, it may take several months for your period to return, and you may not ovulate if you’re breastfeeding (chestfeeding). This can give people the false impression that they’re completely safe from pregnancy. It’s difficult to predict when you’ll first ovulate during breastfeeding and become fertile again.
  • Have a condition like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome): People with PCOS have periods that are unpredictable. Because skipping periods is normal for them, they may not realize they’re pregnant if they miss their period.
  • Use birth control: People who use birth control may mistakenly think they’re protected from pregnancy. Even when you use it correctly, there’s a small chance of failure.
  • Are in perimenopause: People in their 40s may think they’re too old to get pregnant or mistake pregnancy symptoms for menopause symptoms.
  • Have never been pregnant: If you’ve never been pregnant before, you’re less likely to know what being pregnant feels like. This means a pregnancy could go unnoticed for longer.

How common is a cryptic pregnancy?

Cryptic pregnancies are uncommon. Studies suggest about 1 in 475 pregnancies go unnoticed until about 20 weeks gestation. About 1 in 2,500 pregnancies go unnoticed until delivery.

Will a cryptic pregnancy show on a pregnancy test?

You should still get a positive pregnancy test with a cryptic pregnancy. However, using an at-home pregnancy test correctly is the only way to get an accurate result. If you don’t use it correctly, you may get a false negative (meaning you’re pregnant but the test says you aren’t). Be sure to follow the instructions on the package and wait several days after your missed period to take an at-home test.

If your symptoms don’t agree with your home pregnancy test result, it’s always best to have a healthcare provider confirm pregnancy with a blood test.


Do you get your period in a cryptic pregnancy?

No. A cryptic pregnancy is similar to a regular pregnancy in that you don’t get a true menstrual period. However, you may experience implantation bleeding or abnormal pregnancy bleeding and think it’s your period.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes a cryptic pregnancy?

There are several reasons why a person may not realize they’re pregnant. Some of the causes are:

  • An at-home pregnancy test may have shown a false negative result.
  • A person doesn’t have pregnancy symptoms.
  • A person doesn’t notice the pregnancy symptoms or dismisses them.
  • A person doesn’t know the symptoms, and therefore, doesn’t know they’re pregnant.


What are the signs of cryptic pregnancy?

People with a cryptic pregnancy have the same symptoms as a normal pregnancy. The key difference is that the pregnant person doesn’t realize pregnancy is causing their symptoms. For example, they may think they’re nauseous from eating a certain food or that they’re tired because they need to sleep more.

Other symptoms of a stealth pregnancy include:

  • Missed period: While most people know they’re pregnant because they don’t get their period, this isn’t always the case. If your periods are always irregular, you may not realize you’ve missed your period due to pregnancy.
  • Spotting or light bleeding: Some people experience light spotting in early pregnancy and mistake it for a period.
  • False negative pregnancy test result: This means someone is actually pregnant, but their test says they aren’t pregnant. If you don’t use an at-home pregnancy test correctly, you may get an inaccurate result. To be sure, it’s always best to contact a healthcare provider to confirm a pregnancy.
  • Weight gain or swollen belly: Some people may not notice they’ve gained weight due to being pregnant, or they might attribute an unusually bloated belly to eating a certain food.
  • Fetal movement: Most people don’t feel the fetus move until about halfway through pregnancy. If you have an anterior placenta, the placenta’s in the front of your belly. This can make it harder to feel kicks. In the case of a cryptic pregnancy, this could be why you don’t realize you’re pregnant.
  • Not knowing symptoms of pregnancy: If you’re very young or have developmental disabilities, you may be unaware of common signs of pregnancy like a missed period, tender breasts or nausea.

How long does a cryptic pregnancy last?

Most people realize they’re pregnant about 20 weeks into the pregnancy. However, a person can be unaware they’re pregnant during the entire 40 weeks of pregnancy. There have been cases where a person goes to the emergency room with pelvic pain only to discover they’re in labor.

Some studies suggest cryptic pregnancies are more likely to result in preterm birth due to lack of prenatal care, poor nutrition or lifestyle choices.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is it diagnosed?

Pregnancy care providers diagnose cryptic pregnancy like they would a typical pregnancy. Some of the ways providers confirm pregnancy include:

  • Ultrasound.
  • Blood test.
  • Urine (pee) test.

Management and Treatment

How is a cryptic pregnancy treated?

Treatment for cryptic pregnancy depends on when you realize you’re pregnant. If you’re still months away from delivery, a pregnancy care provider will try to catch you up on the prenatal care you’ve missed. This could include:

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Can you prevent cryptic pregnancy?

The best way to prevent a stealth pregnancy is to be aware of your body and sexual health. If you believe there’s any chance you could be pregnant, it’s always best to take a home pregnancy test or visit a healthcare provider for a blood or urine test.

Outlook / Prognosis

What are complications of a cryptic pregnancy?

Complications of a cryptic pregnancy are a direct result of not knowing you’re pregnant. Some of those complications are:

  • No pregnancy care: Since you don’t know you’re pregnant, you haven’t been seeing a provider for your prenatal care. This means you didn’t have the necessary bloodwork, nutritional counseling, ultrasounds or other support you need for a healthy pregnancy. Not knowing you’re pregnant could also mean going into labor on your own without help from a skilled healthcare provider.
  • Lifestyle adjustments: Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are harmful during pregnancy. Since you don’t know you’re pregnant, you may use these substances or take other medications and supplements that are generally unsafe for pregnant people.
  • Higher risk of medical conditions: You won’t receive the care or tests necessary to diagnose certain conditions like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia.
  • Higher risk of congenital conditions: The fetus is at risk for congenital conditions because you didn’t receive genetic tests or other evaluations that help diagnose birth disorders.

Studies also show infants born from cryptic pregnancy are more likely to be born premature, which puts them at risk for poor growth or respiratory issues.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Not knowing you’re pregnant is a real condition. In a cryptic pregnancy, a person may go several months or the entire pregnancy without knowing they’re pregnant. The best thing you can do if you’re sexually active is to know the signs of pregnancy and get a pregnancy test from a healthcare provider if you have any suspicions of pregnancy. Getting regular prenatal care is important for the health and safety of you and the fetus.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 11/08/2022.

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