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Whenever people hear about a woman who didn't find out she was pregnant until she was much further along in her pregnancy, such stories are met with skepticism — perhaps the woman is lying, or perhaps she has been in denial? 

The fact is that this kind of thing happens much more often than you might expect, for many different reasons. 

A woman may genuinely not experience any pregnancy symptoms. She may not notice missed menstruation because she tends not to have periods anyway, due to an underlying medical condition such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, because she generally experiences irregular periods, or because she is lactating or approaching menopause. Not all women experience weight gain of the nature that is easily attributed to pregnancy, either. Contrary to popular belief, this does not hold true only for obese women.

Another possibility is that the woman is indeed experiencing pregnancy symptoms, but instead attributes them to something else — such as a known chronic condition, the flu or a cold, the menopause, or stress. 

Women who were under the impression that they could not possibly be pregnant, because they are over 40, use birth control, or thought they were infertile, may also be less likely to suspect they are pregnant despite experiencing symptoms. 

When a woman does not find out she is pregnant until she is 20 or more weeks along, this is referred to as a "cryptic pregnancy", and in fact, it strikes as many as one in 450 women. One in 2,500 women won't find out they were expecting a baby until they go into labor!

What are the risks of not finding out you are pregnant until later then, and what should you do once you do find out?

The Risks Of Not Having Prenatal Care

The ideal pregnancy is a planned pregnancy: women who purposely try to conceive are able to take steps to promote a healthy pregnancy. Refraining from alcohol, cigarettes, and medications not compatible with pregnancy, taking folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects, and eating a healthy and balanced diet, all do a lot to help babies be healthy. 

Plenty of women get pregnant unintentionally without any ill effects, however — they take the right steps as soon as they do find out they are pregnant, usually soon after a missed period. If you don't realize you are pregnant for months on end, however, you and your baby also miss out on prenatal care. Prenatal care, both provided by a doctor or midwife and the self-care an expectant mother takes by eating well and refraining from dangerous physical activities such as bungee jumping or riding a roller coaster, reduces the risk of pregnancy complications that can affect both mother and baby.

However, you can improve the outcome of your pregnancy by seeking prenatal care as soon as you do find out you are expecting a baby. Remember, even the babies of mothers who didn't find out they were pregnant until they went into labor are usually born healthy! Self-blame is not productive. From this point on, you can only look forward.

The Emotional Effects Of A Cryptic Pregnancy

Finding out you are pregnant months into your pregnancy can be quite the shock! While you are likely to need some time to come to terms with the fact that you are going to have a baby, the same goes for your relatives and friends — and your partner! If either you or people you are close to can't seem to accept the fact that you are pregnant, you will benefit from counseling sessions. Your midwife or doctor will have some recommendations for you. 

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