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Undetected or cryptic pregnancy is a much more common problem than you might think. About one in 475 women who gives birth does not know she is pregnant until the baby is born.

Shaun Jude Jaegers was born at 3:50 a.m. on the morning of October 19, 2016, about three hours after his mother found out she was pregnant. His mother Stephanie Jaegers had only checked into a hospital with severe abdominal cramps six hours earlier.

At age 37 and already the mother of three children, Stephanie and her husband Michael had decided they were not having any more babies. They had given away their other children's baby clothes. They had stowed the car seat in the attic. There had been no signs of a pregnancy. Stephanie was having her period, maybe not as regularly as usual, but that had to because she was approaching menopause. She had looked a little bloated for a few months, but she hadn't looked pregnant.

So when Stephanie started having waves of abdominal pain on October 18, 2016, she thought she had kidney stones. After all, she had given birth three times. She knew what labor pains felt like. In the ER of Piedmont Henry Hospital in Stockbridge, Georgia, however, the doctors decided to run a pregnancy test just in case. 

How a Georgia Woman Carried a Baby For 38 Weeks Without Symptoms of Being Pregnant

Sure enough, Stephanie was giving birth.

How could Stephanie and Michael possibly have not known that Baby #4 was on the way? It turned out that:

  • The baby was breech, aiming its posterior section at the world. His feet were up near its head, so Stephanie never felt him kick.
  • Baby Shaun managed to spend nine months behind a rib, so Stephanie did not have a bulging tummy.
  • Mother Stephanie was already premenopausal, so hormonal changes were not obvious.

By the time doctors confirmed that Stephanie was pregnant, she was already fully dilated. Even though her water never broke, the baby's butt was visible through the cervix. Doctors at first thought that they would have to do a Caesarean section, but Stephanie was able to give birth naturally, and Baby Shaun arrived healthy and beautiful into the world.

Undetected Pregnancy Is More Common Than You Might Think

Stories like that of Stephanie Jaegers appear in the news with frequency. In November 2015, the newspapers reported the case of  47-year-old Beverly, Massachusetts resident Judy Brown, who entered a hospital thinking she was having a severe gallstone attack and gave birth to a healthy daughter just one hour after she found out she was pregnant. She and her husband had been married for 22 years and had even stopped thinking it was possible to get pregnant.

In January of 2015 a 23-year-old Wisconsin woman who had had a menstrual cycle and was on birth control, and who had had no signs of pregnancy other than swollen feet, gave birth to a healthy 10-pound (4.5 kilogram) baby girl. And in 2012 a British soldier who had no idea she was pregnant gave birth to a baby boy on the front lines in Afghanistan.

A German study of births in metropolitan Berlin found that 1 in 475 mothers did not know they were pregnant until 20 weeks into their pregnancies. The study also found that 1 in 2,455 did not know she was pregnant until she was in labor. Cryptic pregnancy is not an exotic, unheard of condition.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Del Giudice M. The evolutionary biology of cryptic pregnancy: A re-appraisal of the "denied pregnancy" phenomenon. Med Hypotheses. 2007. 68(2):250-8. PMID: 16997498.
  • Photo courtesy of 123rf (stock photos)
  • Photo courtesy of geishabot: www.flickr.com/photos/geishabot/4441250565/
  • Photo courtesy of 123rf (stock photos)