Women's Healthcare Topics

Can You Really “Not Know” You’re Pregnant until Delivery?

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Perhaps you’ve seen Discovery’s hit series, “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant,” or perhaps you’ve heard of “surprise” pregnancies and deliveries from another source. I remember reading an article about it years ago in a teen magazine: a slim, athletic teenager got through an entire pregnancy completely unawares, only to suddenly give birth on a toilet.

When the Discovery show came up in conversation recently, I joked with my husband about how difficult it would be not to know. It’s probably no coincidence that I happened to be tired and achy (thanks to pregnancy) at the time.

I recently came across another article through a random Google search on the topic, however, and found that yes, you can “not know” you’re pregnant until you go into labor. In fact, it may even be more common than having triplets!

Among the incredible tales of surprise baby arrivals are the delivery of a baby to a mother of three immediately following a half-marathon training session, a childbirth in the bathroom of an amusement park, and even a labor and delivery on a boat—in a bikini. But how can women not know they are pregnant?

5 Pregnancy Symptoms Women Could Overlook

Despite the fact that many women may think the signs of pregnancy are unmistakable, there are some symptoms that could be mistaken for more common discomforts.

Can women not know they are pregnant until they go into labor?
  • Weight gain. Who doesn’t put on a few pounds every now and then? Women who are heavy may gain little or no weight during pregnancy, while women who are very slim may gain only the weight of the baby—hardly a noticeable fluctuation.

  • Missed periods. Many different types of health conditions may cause missed or irregular periods. Likewise, medications or very low body fat can cause a lack of menstruation. For women in one of these situations, a missed period—even a year of missed periods—could be considered nothing out of the ordinary.

  • Nausea or morning sickness. Because some women experience very little in the way of morning sickness, some may escape these warning signs altogether. Even for those who do experience nausea, however, it may pass as simply an extended illness.

  • Fatigue. Besides stress, hard work, and a busy schedule, there are many things that could reasonably cause the fatigue associated with pregnancy. Related symptoms, like shortness of breath or weakness, could be explained by similar circumstances, such as illness or anemia.

  • Fetal movement. Let’s face it: those of us who know we are pregnant can easily believe that, at least at first, the movements of the baby can pass for gas, bloating, and a rumbly tummy. Barring a malnourished or weak baby, however, I can’t imagine not considering the movements I’ve felt when pregnant as anything other than kicks!

All in all, it seems there are, indeed, a few situations in which a pregnancy could go unnoticed—even to full-term. Although I couldn’t find much documented research on the topic, it still makes for a fascinating idea to ponder.

Do you think you could have gone an entire nine months without attributing your symptoms to pregnancy? Do you believe that the women featured in shows like that of the Discovery Channel truly were unaware of their pregnancies? How big of a role might denial or willful ignorance play in these cases?


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