Pregnancy is a beautiful, life-changing experience, right? But imagine not knowing you’re pregnant until the last minute. Well, welcome to the world of cryptic pregnancies, where there are absolutely no signs of pregnancy and some may only realise when labour begins, leaving a real-life medical mystery that leaves doctors and patients scratching their heads.
As Dr Ota Onwuagbu, a gynaecologist from Potchefstroom in North West, describes it, “Cryptic pregnancy is when a woman conceives and goes through pregnancy and labour without knowing it or until they have delivered a baby.”
She explains, “The risks of cryptic pregnancy lie in the delay in the early detection and management of life-threatening complications of pregnancy. It requires a high index of suspicion.
“However, most women who have cryptic pregnancies have been found to be well and in good health and have given birth to healthy babies.”
Shocked and frustrated
After experiencing a cryptic pregnancy in July 2021, Lesedi Chachu from Johannesburg tells Health for Mzansi that giving birth immediately and unexpectedly without experiencing the pregnancy journey is tough, and the experience leaves you shocked and mentally frustrated.
“I didn’t have any symptoms to show that I was pregnant. The contractions led me to go to the hospital, but at that time I didn’t know they were pregnancy-related. I was rushed to the hospital, and that’s when everything changed,” she says.
Medical personnel told her, “You know that you are giving birth; you need to go into labour?”, and she was shocked.
“You have to learn how to love that kid. You don’t have the time to process everything. Overall, it’s a beautiful blessing.”
Did not plan for it
Thato Khoza from Johannesburg, who found out she was pregnant at 34 weeks and 4 days, which was in the eighth month and a week before labour, says finding out was really a shock to her and not easy because she had to make sudden changes.
“I never had any symptoms. The only reason why I went for a scan was because my aunt had a dream that included pregnancy. I took tests during the months and did scans, but they were all negative. I never had a bump; my stomach was flat. The only change I experienced without noticing it was weight loss. I didn’t experience any complications; I had no labour pains. I had to be induced so that I could give birth because my body was numb and I couldn’t feel any pain, which led to me not feeling that the baby’s head was close,” she explains.
Causes of cryptic pregnancy
Onwuagbu explains that the causes of cryptic pregnancy include, but are not limited to:
- Severe psychological and emotional distress: A woman going through mental health issues ends up not being aware of changes within her body.
- Very busy and active lifestyles- they deal with a lot of issues and activities that preoccupy their minds and they don’t notice the signs of pregnancy.
- Age: A very young woman might not accurately track their cycles or might notice changes in their body but not consider the changes to be caused by pregnancy. An older woman might think the changes have to do with menopause or perimenopause.
- A woman who has been struggling to conceive and thought she couldn’t, and then suddenly conceives and goes through a pregnancy and only realised it very late in the pregnancy or during or after giving birth.
- Failure of contraception: It is well known that contraceptives can have a failure rate, depending on the type of contraceptive used. a woman could be on a contraceptive but for some reason, it fails to prevent pregnancy as it should. Recent childbirth: A woman who birth might attribute her symptoms to the postpartum changes
Furthermore, she speaks about the long-term impact of a cryptic pregnancy which may involve becoming a parent while one is not prepared. “This has financial, emotional, and psychological implications for a woman, her partner or spouse, her other children (if she has any), and the whole family.”
“The child might grow up having emotional and psychological difficulties due to little or no parental involvement. Thankfully, most families are willing to accept a newborn and raise them lovingly even when the parent is not around,” she explains.
Contraception No 1 preventative measure
Onwuagbu further suggests that the most common way to prevent a cryptic pregnancy is to use contraception. There are many different types of contraceptives, including abstinence, barrier methods, the pill, the patch, the ring, the injection, the intrauterine device, the implant, and sterilisation (operation to close the tubes).
“Women are also encouraged to know their cycles so that if there is something different about their cycles, they should consult as soon as possible.” It is also important to have regular check-ups so that other medical conditions can be diagnosed and treated as needed,” she advises.
“If a woman finds out late in the pregnancy but before labour, she needs to go for consultation and assessment as soon as possible so that the appropriate plans can be made to ensure a safe delivery for both the mother and the baby.”
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