Maybe you’ve heard the wives tales of a woman so sure she was pregnant her belly swelled as if she were nine months along. Except for one thing: There never was a baby.
It sounds like a horrifying plot to a Lifetime Movie Network thriller, but shockingly enough, “false pregnancy” is a rare but real phenomenon. Also known as a phantom pregnancy, this condition occurs when a woman’s body suffers a traumatic event, therefore convincing itself biologically that it is with child.
What is false pregnancy?
It’s called pseudocyesis in the medical community and it is a condition in which the female body “tricks” itself into believing it is pregnant with the help of the biological symptoms that would normally signify a pregnancy.
What causes a false pregnancy?
Oftentimes, what causes a phantom pregnancy is a mental health issue or traumatizing event. Severe depression can result in a significant hormonal change, which may suggest those changes are pregnancy-related. Tumors in the ovary may also cause a false-positive pregnancy test, as corpus leteum cysts produce HCG, a hormone detected in pregnancy. Traumatic events are also cited as catalysts; such events might include multiple miscarriages.
What are some of the symptoms of a false pregnancy?
A woman’s body simulates pregnancy to such a realistic degree that her belly can swell (called a distended abdomen), menstruation can stop, and the breasts may become engorged, preparing with milk for a baby that doesn’t exist. Women who suffer from this rare condition can also experience complications that pregnant people are susceptible to, such as preeclampsia. They can even endure contractions and some have even reported “seeing” a fetus on an ultrasound screen, despite the womb being utterly empty.
Are you at risk for carrying a false pregnancy?
Probably not. Only one percent of women experience what is labeled as “false labor.” In order for it to be diagnosed as true pseudocyesis, a woman has to truly believe that she is carrying a child.