Cryptic pregnancy: How you can be pregnant without a baby bump
There are plenty of potential symptoms that clue women in to the fact they might be pregnant. Morning sickness, lack of periods, tender boobs and a bump, to name a few.
But for some women, those typical cues don’t always happen, so often the first time they realise they are pregnant is when they actually give birth.
Last year, a woman found out she was pregnant just hours before she welcomed her baby, after abdominal pains forced her to leave a party and rush to hospital.
Four hours later Lorna Goodings, 25, from Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire gave birth to her second child, Daphne Burdiak – who weighed 8lbs 2oz – at Northampton General hospital.
And in 2019 a woman who had no idea she was pregnant got the shock of her life when she delivered her baby alone on her bathroom floor.
Stacey Porter, 20, had gone to bed with a stomach ache, and it wasn’t until she felt her baby’s head coming that she realised she was about to give birth.
Charlotte Thompson from Newcastle also made headlines in 2018 after a shock delivery. With a completely flat stomach and maintaining her size 8 figure throughout, Thompson had no idea she was about to become a mum.
Thompson, Porter and Goodings are certainly not the only women to not know they were pregnant until they go into labour. In fact, the phenomenon, known as cryptic pregnancy, isn’t so uncommon.
“Cryptic pregnancy (when a woman does not realise she’s pregnant until giving birth) is rare, but not as rare as you might think,” explains Liz Halliday, deputy head of midwifery at Private Midwives.
“Affecting up to 1:2500 pregnancies (according to a study published in The BMJ) it’s a phenomenon that many midwives will have to come across at some point in their career.”
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According to Dr Vanessa Mackay, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), there are two kinds of unknown pregnancies; a concealed and a denied pregnancy.
“A concealed pregnancy is one in which a woman knows that she is pregnant, but doesn’t tell anyone, while a denied pregnancy is when a woman is unaware of, or unable to accept, the fact that she is pregnant.”
How can you be pregnant without a bump?
Although it is unusual to have an entirely flat abdomen in pregnancy, Meg Wilson, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at London Gynaecology says every woman ‘carries’ a pregnancy differently.
“Women who have a long abdomen, may have more space for their uterus to develop upwards rather than outwards which may give the appearance of a ‘smaller bump’,” she explains.
“The female pelvis and abdomen is well designed to accommodate an enlarging uterus. As the uterus gets bigger with a developing pregnancy, the loops of bowel which fill the abdomen are pushed upwards and out to the sides.”
Your bump could also be influenced by the size of your growing baby. ”Some babies may be very small (growth restricted) which means they do not take up much space,” Wilson continues.
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Occasionally, a baby can simply be playing hide-and-seek in your ribcage.
“If the uterus falls back, babies can sit there and grow to quite a big size before they can be felt in the abdomen. Occasionally, a prominent rib cage can also hide a growing uterus,” explains Dr Mackay.
Your pre-pregnancy bodyweight might also impact the concealing of a baby bump.
“Women carrying excess weight, especially around the midriff, may not notice the growing bump as pregnancy progresses,” explains Halliday.
The strength of your stomach muscles have a part to play too. “Women who have very strong abdominal core muscles might not develop much of a bump as the muscles hold the growing uterus firmly and the baby tucks further into the spine,” Halliday continues.
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Is it possible to have periods while pregnant?
Some women assume they can’t be pregnant because they continue to have what seem like periods. But it is possible to bleed while pregnant.
“Vaginal bleeding is relatively common during pregnancy,” explains Dr Mackay. “In the first few weeks, when the embryo plants itself in the wall of the womb, women may experience light bleeding called spotting, which often happens around the time a period would have been due.”
Bleeding can also be caused by changes in the cervix as a result of pregnancy, or a sign of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, however, many women who bleed at this stage go on to have normal and successful pregnancies.
“In later pregnancy, bleeding can be a sign of a vaginal infection, that the cervix is getting ready for labour, or a serious condition such as placental abruption (when the placenta starts to come away from the womb wall), placenta praevia (when the placenta is attached in the lower part of the womb), or vasa praevia (where the baby’s vessels run through the membranes covering the cervix),” Dr Mackay adds.
And if you had irregular periods before pregnancy, that can also throw you off the mum-to-be scent.
“While an absence of periods is the most common early symptom of pregnancy, there are many reasons why a woman may not menstruate regularly. Medical disorders, medication, contraception, a poor diet, stress and approaching the menopause can all disrupt menstruation,” Dr Mackay continues.
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According to Halliday there are some other explanations why women might not realise they are pregnant until they go into labour.
“A quiet baby or a placenta situated at the front of the uterus might mean that a woman isn’t aware of movements,” she says.
And women who suffer from stomach conditions, like IBS may mistake movements for gas or bowel pain.
Likewise, perimenopausal women may mistake signs of pregnancy for the menopause.
So there you have it, according to the experts it is totally possible to not have even the slightest inkling you might be pregnant until you give birth.
And while finding yourself an instant mum will no doubt be a bit of a shock, at least it cuts out any inevitable stress about impending parenthood.