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7 reasons “I didn’t know I was pregnant!” can be real

Picture this: a woman recently shows up the hospital unaware she was pregnant and in labor—with twins! She gives birth quickly by an emergency C-section.

How can a woman not know she is pregnant?! Can this be real? 

While this story sounds fabricated, I would guess that almost every obstetrician in the country has had this patient walk into their hospital with a nearly identical story. I know I have, multiple times! Here are just a few reasons this might happen, and often the story is never simple.

1. She knows she is pregnant but wants to hide it. Some of these women have known for a long time they are pregnant but have chosen to hide the pregnancy. They may do this for a number of reasons: fear of getting in trouble (such as a teenager) or fear that a partner or spouse may leave them if they know they are pregnant, just to name a couple. Often these women only come to the hospital when they are in active labor, and many will place their baby up for adoption.

2. She is truly in denial. This may happen in a woman with a psychiatric disorder or in certain high-risk groups such as teenagers or victims of sexual abuse. These women truly do not believe they are pregnant and require close attention after delivery to ensure their mental health is stable before they leave the hospital. 

3. Obesity. Women who are heavier may not notice any weight gain during a pregnancy (especially if they just started exercising). This, combined with a less active baby or a placenta in the front of the uterus that lessens a baby’s movements, may leave a woman completely unaware she is pregnant. 

4. Irregular cycles or ongoing “periods.” Some women with irregular periods may think their lack of a period is nothing abnormal, while others may spot or bleed throughout a pregnancy and think it’s actually their period. 

5. Thinking pregnancy symptoms are related to something else. A woman who has no idea she is pregnant may think her fatigue is due to depression or that her weight gain is because she is eating more unhealthy foods. 

6. She’s been told she can’t get pregnant. Many women incorrectly believe they are infertile when they are not. This is often the result of poor communication from medical providers. Even women who’ve had a tubal ligation or whose partners have had a vasectomy can still get pregnant—no form of birth control is 100 percent! 

7. A negative pregnancy test was wrong. It’s true that while pregnancy tests are reliable, they are not perfect. Often testing too early is the reason a test shows up negative when a woman is really pregnant, but there can be other errors as well.

At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is helping the woman through her (usually unanticipated) labor and having a healthy baby. The rest can be worked out later!

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About Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Bundoo OB/GYN

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln is a board-certified generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician in Portland, Oregon. She primarily works on labor and delivery has recently been certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

Comments

  1. I have seen shows like this story telling about women who didn’t know they were pregnant but most of these women were overweight. I can understand how some of the symptoms may not lead to suspecting a pregnancy but how can somebody not feel the baby kicking and especially if there are twins in there? It just sounds so odd to me.

    Reply
    1. Well, as the article says, symptoms can be attributed to other things. If there is only a small amount of kicking, they might not feel it, or they might think it’s indigestion, or hunger, or weird cramps, or whatever.

      Reply
    2. I know it seems unbelievable, but I’ve seen it!!

      Reply

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