Reasons for a Hidden and Denied Pregnancy

A mother's hands cradling her newborn baby's head

andy bennett photographer / Getty Images

We’ve all seen the news stories and TV shows. A proud mother is cradling her newborn, but looking baffled: She didn’t know she was pregnant until she was in labor. For those who have been pregnant before, this may seem impossible. After all, how can you miss all of the signs and symptoms of pregnancy? Most women are very anxious to take a pregnancy test the minute their period is late.


There are two situations in which a woman wouldn't be aware of her pregnancy. Both suggest that there are significant psychological issues at work. Hidden pregnancies are those that are intentionally hidden: The mom knows she's pregnant but doesn't admit it. Denied, or negated, pregnancies occur when the mother does not notice the symptoms of pregnancy.

Hidden Pregnancy Signs

Signs of a hidden pregnancy are the same as regular pregnancy signs, though they may sometimes be less pronounced.

  • Abdominal swelling (a baby bump)
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of menstruation
  • Lower back pain
  • Nausea
  • Increased appetite
  • Unexpected weight gain

Reasons for Denied Pregnancy

Why would a mother choose to ignore a pregnancy—or deny that she is pregnant? There can be many medical reasons.

  • Symptoms of pregnancy, such as morning sickness, do not appear—or appear in unexpected ways (morning sickness at night, for example).
  • The pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, and the mother does not acknowledge that she is pregnant due to the trauma of the event.
  • The mother is an athlete who is training hard enough that early pregnancy is not physically obvious.
  • The mother has taken a pregnancy test which gave incorrect negative results.
  • The mother has an irregular menstrual cycle and, thus, does not miss her period until she is several weeks or even months pregnant.
  • The mother is obese and thus is unaware of the additional weight or pressure she might otherwise feel.

While some hidden pregnancies make sense, some are the result of psychosis. The mother has literally hidden her own physical state from herself until the baby is actually born.

Frequency of Denied Pregnancy

According to medical research, the state of denied pregnancy is not uncommon. In about 1 in 475 pregnancies, women are unaware of pregnancy until 20 weeks gestation or longer. This means that this occurs more often than Rh disease and some other conditions we think of as fairly rare.

Frequency of Denied Labor

While it is a bit more rare to not know of a pregnancy until you’re in labor, about one in 2,455 births happen under this circumstance (according to the same study that found the 1 in 475 figure). To that into perspective, it means that a woman is three times more likely to give birth without knowing she was pregnant as to give birth to triplets (1 in 7,225 pregnancies).

In a country the size of Germany, where the research was conducted, this means that about 300 mothers a year would not know they were pregnant until they started labor.

The researchers proposed that a specific category of medical classification be added under reproductive dysfunction for negated pregnancies. This would include denied or concealed pregnancies. It may also include false pregnancy (pseudocyesis), obsessive desire to have children and other pathological behavior of a mother towards her offspring.

A Word From Verywell

This is not something that happens only in a certain subset of women. Hidden or denied pregnancy can happen in every socioeconomic group, race, religion, etc. Being unaware of pregnancy, even for only the first 20 weeks, has the potential to risk the health of both mother and baby.

If you are sexually active and you experience persistent, unexplained weight gain, missed periods, or any other symptom that could be associated with pregnancy, seek medical attention.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Stammers K, Long N. Not your average birth: considering the possibility of denied or concealed pregnancy. Case Reports. 2014;2014(may29 1):bcr2014204800-bcr2014204800. doi: 10.1136/bcr-2014-204800.

  2. Wessel J, Buscher U. Denial of pregnancy: population based study. BMJ. 2002;324(7335):458.  doi:10.1136/bmj.324.7335.458

Additional Reading

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.