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Pseudocyesis: The Phantom Pregnancy Phenomenon

Updated on December 16, 2016
kaltopsyd profile image

Kimberly is an aspiring child psychologist and child advocate with a passion for dance, music and writing.

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Google Images

Fatigue, nausea, headaches, food cravings, missed menstruation, backache, tender breasts, frequent urination, mood swings... sound familiar? Yes, what I've listed are the common symptoms of pregnancy. Pregnancy: the state, condition or quality of being pregnant. Pregnancy: "the condition of carrying developing offspring within the body" ( Gestation.

Pseudocyesis, false pregnancy, phantom pregnancy: the state, condition or quality of being pregnant... without being pregnant.

Pregnant: with child, gestating, fruitful, enceinte, expecting...

Not pregnant: without child, not gestating, unfruitful, non-enceinte, expecting...

Queen Mary (Google Images)
Queen Mary (Google Images)

Bloody Mary

Mary Tudor, Queen regnant of England and of Ireland, born in February of 1516 was known for being pregnant but never giving birth. Queen Mary had presented with a distended stomach and nausea but her pregnancy "progressed" for over a year without the birth of an infant. People believed that perhaps she may have miscarried without the fetus being properly expelled but there was no proof of miscarriage and no other proof--except the large belly and the sickness--of her actually being pregnant.

It is believed that Queen Mary had experienced hysterical pregnancies, also known as phantom pregnancies or pseudocyesis. Some say that she earned the nickname "Bloody Mary" from the violent bloody acts committed on her behalf as her way of releasing the anger and frustration she felt from not being able to bear an heir.

In the 1940s, pseudocyesis occurred approximately once every 250 pregnancies. In this day and age, with the medical advancements and efficient home pregnancy tests, pseudocyesis is rare. Still, it exists.

Symptoms Explained

The first indication of pregnancy is usually missed menstruation. 56-98% of women with pseudocyesis experience menstrual irregularity or cessation. The explanation for that can be several factors.

  • Being stressed out can decreases the amount of the hormone GnRH, causing a woman to miss her period.
  • Changing of one's schedule, for example: losing a lot of sleep or even switching from working a day shift to working a night shift.
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • Using certain medications (especially birth control, of course)
  • Being sick
  • Menopause and peri-menopause

Another common symptoms of pseudocyesis is Nausea (and vomiting) which can be the result of anything really. A mere nervous stomach at times can lead to nausea and vomiting.

Fatigue is another symptom that can be the result of anything (bad sleeping habits, stress, another sickness, etc...).

Sore breasts can be a premenstrual sign. In the case of a missed period, breast tenderness can still occur.

Breastmilk production is a symptom that can occur without pregnancy, believe it or not. Here are some possible causes:

  • Prolactinoma - a benign (noncancerous) tumor in the pituitary gland where prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production, is produced.
  • Medications such as thioridazine (an antipsychotic) can also stimulate prolactin production.
  • Enlarged pituitary gland condition.
  • Mammary gland stimulation by sucking on the nipples (as in sexual foreplay). This increases blood flow to the glands.
  • Mammary duct ectasia - a condition in which the milk duct beneath the nipple becomes clogged or blocked. Usually occurs in women in their 40s and 50s

Google Images
Google Images

The Most Bizarre Symptoms Explained

The most obvious sign of pregnancy is the large, noticeably distended abdomen. You can't argue against a pregnant belly, can you? The cause of a distended abdomen in pregnancy is the enlargement of the uterus due to a growing fetus. If a pregnant woman's stomach wasn't growing at all, that's a reason to be concerned.

What about if a woman's stomach is gradually growing, just as a pregnant belly grows, but she's not pregnant? Bear in mind that I'm not talking about a little punch or a little fat. I'm taking about a rounded, possibly hard-to-the-touch stomach. 63 - 97% of women with pseudocyesis appear pregnant.

For years, scientists and medical professionals have been trying to find the cause for the large abdomen in women experiencing a phantom pregnancy. There are a few theories that account for this strange symptom. Scientists and medical professionals believe that perhaps the distended abdomen is caused by gas build up, fat, urine, or feces.

Another bizarre symptom for a non-pregnant woman in experiencing "quickening", the sensation of the baby moving. Either this is caused by gas or it is psychological because there is no baby to feel. Still, women with pseudocyesis truly believe that they can feel the nonexistent fetus moving.

Google Images
Google Images

LWD (Labor Without Delivery)

In true pregnancy, once the time comes for the fetus to come into this world, the uterus begins a pattern of contractions to push the baby into the birth canal. The cervix dilates, widening for the baby to pass through. As labor progresses, contractions become stronger and get closer together. Usually, when the cervix is fully dilated and contractions are relatively constant, the woman is able to push her baby out of her body and into the real world.

I'm sure that we've all seen or heard about childbirth in one way or another. Either you've seen childbirth portrayed on television, seen it firsthand, heard or read about it or even experienced it yourself. Usually, people know labor when they see it.

I've heard and read stories of women appearing to be full-term going into labor, even down to the breaking of the amniotic sac (water breaking) and then... no baby. How is that possible, you ask me? It still baffles me.

Yes, women with pseudocyesis can go into labor just as pregnant women go into labor. They feel the contractions, their water breaks, they have the desire to push, the whole nine. Yet, there's no baby to give birth to.

Google Images
Google Images

Pregnancy vs. Pseudocyesis

Sometimes the only thing that differs false pregnancy from true pregnancy is a sonogram/ultrasound. In medical examinations for pregnancy, such as a pelvic exam, pregnancy may be confirmed in a person with pseudocyesis. This is because a woman with this condition has a soft and enlarged uterus just as a real pregnant woman does.

There have been cases of positive home pregnancy tests due to the production of some of the pregnancy related hormones produced in a woman with pseudocyesis. So, to reiterate, a sonogram/ultrasound is the only surefire way to rule out pregnancy as a diagnosis.

Getting Rid of a Phantom Baby

How you you get rid of a baby that doesn't exist? Usually, once a woman gives birth, the pregnancy symptoms all disappear but how does a woman rid herself of the pregnancy-related symptoms when she was never pregnant in the first place?

Some symptoms, such as the cessation of menstruation, can be ended (or in this case, restarted) by medications. Most patients with pseudocyesis may consult a psychologist or psychiatrist. Sometimes, putting a patient under anesthesia can rid them of the distended abdomen. Treatment depends entirely on the patient.

Google Images
Google Images
Google Images
Google Images

The Afflicted

In the United States, between 1 and 6 of every 22,000 births are phantom pregnancies. The youngest documented case was in a 6 1/2 year girl and the oldest documented case was in a 79 year old woman but the average age is 33. More than 2/3 of women who have experienced a phantom pregnancy were married and 1/3 were pregnant at least once in their life.

The people who are most affected by pseudocyesis are women in their late 30s or 40s who have fertility problems or are desperate for a child. Women who have suffered a miscarriage or have lost a child are also susceptible for pseudocyesis. Generally, women going through a phantom pregnancy are emotionally unstable and may have other psychological problems. An extreme fear of becoming pregnant have also been shown as a risk factor for developing pseudocyesis. Women who were the victims of incest have been shown to possibly be at greater risk for pseudocyesis.

To conclude, the main cause of pseudocyesis is psychological. In a way, it can be said that pseudocyesis is mind over matter. In other words, the woman is so desperate and her desire to have a baby is so strong, that her body fulfills her wish. Astonishing, isn't it?

© 2010 kaltopsyd


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    • profile image

      Jennifer H 18 months ago

      I believe that phantom pregnacies are actually undiagnosed abdominal pregnancies that end in death and reabsorb back into the body because they are so dificult to find. When an induction produces no baby, abdominal pregnancy must be ruled out. Especially since a positive test prooves b-hcg is produced and is only produced by a placenta or certain cancerous tumors. Research abdominal pregnancy, lithopedion, advanced abdominal pregnancy. You cant pass it off as psychological if it presents physical pregnancies can last from 2-5 yrs. dont rule it out before your label yourself nuts. MRI or surgery is the best test for diagnosis

    • profile image

      mary 19 months ago

      My thought is , how come the doctor doesn't catch it even at delivery time. I know a woman who was told she was having twins. Had sonogram at 6mo. Told they were girls. Then after 42 weeks, doctor talked about inducing labor. Day of appointment there was no longer heartbeat and no babies. all he did was stand there and cry. How can they put a woman through this , with all the modern technology. He didn't even order any other sonograms. Please explain how this can happen.

    • profile image

      Sam 4 years ago

      I am curious, I desperately want to be pregnant and I have several home tests that are positive but I also have 2 blood tests from the doctor that are negative, and I am terrified that it is a false pregnancy. I am having all of the symptoms and my husband claims to have even felt movement and kicking. So I am wondering if in your research you found that was possible? I am having a ultrasound in a few days but it has been a month since my positive test and it is driving me mad not having any answers.

    • just helen profile image

      just helen 4 years ago from Dartmoor UK

      When My sister was pregnant 30 years ago, I went without a period for 4 months in sympathy!

    • profile image

      Daizie 5 years ago

      I'm 20. And I have a daughter. I'm trying to have a boy. And I was looking up some ways like techniques. And the next day I got bad morning sickness. All the pain. My body aches and it was exactly how I was when I had my daughter. Just 2xs worse. I feel movement but no baby. It is natural to be this young ?

    • profile image

      Nicky 5 years ago

      I have been married for 2 years and finally we are trying to have a baby.. I took like 10 pregnacy test all were negative. I'm a slim woman but my waist is like 30" and I have all the pregnancy sytoms but without the reward of being pregnant even my husband notice changes in my body and my moods. I don't know what to do at this point to stop this craziness

    • profile image

      claudia 5 years ago

      I now think I may be going through this. I feel "fetal movements" pretty regularly for the last 1 1/2 months. I have sore nipples and they get painful at times. I have been nauseous. However over the last month I have had 3 blood tests and 4 vaginal ultrasounds that have come out negative. So, I guess it's all in my head. Atleast I hope so. I really do not want to have another child. I have 2 and I just went back to school to finally get my career going.

    • profile image

      Cate 5 years ago

      I am experiancing phantom pregnancy. been feeling pregnant for at least 2 months. The whole time I havn't thought I was pregnant. And do not want a baby. Can an intense desire to not get pregnant cause you to have a phantom pregnancy? I also have had a mirena IUD for alittle over 3 1/2 yrs . I have heard that other mirena users have also had all kinds of pregnancy symptoms when they have had the mirena iud over 3yrs. I just know i want all these symptoms gone. My hips are even widening and im now gaining wait. Have had other pregnancy symptoms for several months now. The dr even thought I was pregnant and was very puzzled when I told him I wasnt. I do have a lump I found on the right side of my head between my jaw and my ear. The symptoms appeared around the time the lump started growing. So I thought either it or the mirena is causing this false pregnancy. but the dr thinks the lump is just inflamed knotted up jaw muscles from stress teeth clenching and grinding. He didn't order any tests to see if it was a tumor. unfortunately I cannot afford to get testing . hopefully will have insurance again by February.

    • profile image

      Sanm 5 years ago

      Hi all,

      Just got snapped out of my psuedocyesis a couple of days ago with the realization that there is no baby. Traumatic experience indeed. I experienced everything right up to labour.

      Had my first day of counseling and got some relief to know I am not alone in this.

      So you have literature on the recovery process?

    • profile image

      HystericalDame 6 years ago

      I think I could be experiencing psuedocyesis. I had somewhat unprotected sex (the condom broke) in April, but took plan B that very same day. I have taken over seven home pregnancy tests since then and all have come up negative. I am still having normal feeling periods with a typical amount of blood and cramping for me. However, my stomach is hard and swollen and I can feel "movement". I've been constipated and anxious and pretty horrified of the idea that I could be "with child". I can't stop thinking about it. I literally have no idea of what to do, aside from seeing a doctor. I feel like I'm going kind of insane.

    • profile image

      MommyofPreemies 6 years ago

      I have been pregnant twice and with my last baby being born early I had a lot of depression. I had wished for a full-term pregnancy but still had him early. Having him in the NICU was scary and I instantly missed having him inside me. After a few months, and when I thought I was finally over it, I started experiencing pregnancy symptoms again. I had morning sickness and what I thought were fetal kicks. I knew there was no way I could be pregnant because I hadn't been with a man since I concieved my last baby. I think it may have been my body's way of trying to give me those last months of pregnancy that I missed out on. I didn't end up with a big belly but I did lose my period and I got hearburn and a sore back again. But the second the symptoms disapeared (I had them for the exact number of weeks I missed out on pregnancy) My period came back and I was back to normal. i never went through the labor, but I think that is because I had already went through it. It was just my body's way of completing the pregnancy for me.

    • profile image

      lil_mama230 6 years ago

      the first time i heard of this i was reading the heavenstone secrets by v.c andrews only in that book she really was pregnant but her sister convinced her that it was only a phantom pregnancy but i looked this up and i was shocked to realize that it was something very real which at the time i didnt realize

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Killyana, I'm sorry I'm responding, most likely, way too late. I'm honoured that you would like to cite my blog, but it's probably not 'appropriate' for a research paper, given that it's not a professional article. However, my sources below are more authentic. Thank you for reading!

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Choc and Babs, I'm truly sorry for your experiences. I think if more awareness is put forward this condition would be 'easier' to deal with. I hope you've both recovered and I wish you well. :)

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      To Pat or Tricia ;) - I have heard stories from others who have experienced it. I think it's so heartbreaking :/ Yes, I did put a lot of research into it because it was so fascinating to me. Thanks for the comment! (Sorry about the super late response!)

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Corey, wow, I never saw this comment. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

    • profile image

      babs 6 years ago

      i went "full term" with a false pregnancy, and then went into "labor" in february. it was awful. the weird part was, that i knew i wasn't pregnant the whole time, becuase i'd already had the misscarriage in april, but in may, my body was still behaving as though i was pregnant. i had a small panic attack in november, when i felt something move around in my abdomen. that was the only time i thought i really could have been pregnant throughout this whole thing. going into labor and not getting a baby out of it sucked. :( i have never heard of a woman having a false pregnancy, while knowing that they weren't pregnant before. i thought you really had to believe it to make your body go haywire like that.

    • profile image

      killyana 6 years ago

      when was this blog written? I'm trying to cite it for my research paper:)

    • profile image

      choc 6 years ago

      Oh it happens for real,it happened to me when I was 31yrs old,I was devastated,I had the round belly and all looked like I was about 5 months...when I got the ultrasound and there was no baby,I went into deep depression,false pregnancies can really take a toll on a woman,I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy...

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Fascinating subject. You've put a lot of research into this - thanks for the effort.

      I've never known anybody with this condition and wondered if it really existed, having seen sensational magazine headlines.

    • profile image

      Corey Barton 7 years ago

      What a good piece of writing! I am getting some work performed on a vehicle and this place doesn't have reading material not to mention lacks any telly so it dawned on me that I have our netbook in the vehicle along with a witeless Internet connection. Anyway, back to this article. Whoever composed this did an excellent job. I once was a newspaper editor and can tell the significant difference between an outstanding piece of writing and a bad one. Thank you for the write-up. I bookmarked your site as a favorite!

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Ooh, well I wish all the best for you Jhen. I hope you're blessed with a bundle of joy! :)

    • profile image

      Jhen 7 years ago

      Jhen: just hope I am not experiencing it right now.

      Coz I'm really having pregnancy symptoms and

      wanting a baby so bad. Will have an ultrasound

      this coming Thursday. Then I'm sure I'll get to know

      whether I'm prego or not. :(

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      I think you're right, Niki. If the body already think it's pregnant, then... but wait a minute. I've heard of cases where women became pregnant while they were already pregnant. There was a case where a woman give birth to twins, but one was full term and the other premature. ... strange things happen in this world.

      Thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      NikiiLeeReyes 7 years ago

      I knew about hysteria pregnancy but I never knew it to be that bad wow sheesh great hubb! I would doubt your body can get pregnant during phantom pregnancy; because your body is already tricked into thinking it's pregnant.

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Haha, wow, AC! I didn't expect to see you on this Hub. You're officially among my elite followers. lol. I'm lad you found this interesting and your serials are not silly. :) Thanks for commenting!

    • ACSutliff profile image

      ACSutliff 7 years ago

      How crazy!

      The history with Bloody Marry was especially interesting! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us! It sure makes me feel like I had better write more hubs about other stuff besides my silly serials. :)

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Laio, I'm so sorry to hear about that. Since pseudocyesis is psychosomatic (mental happenings manifesting in physical happenings), it's more of a mind over matter thing. Since the body is not really pregnant, I don't see why a woman can't get pregnant in the middle of pseudocyesis. I assume it will be a rare occurrence because of the hormone changes that are part of pseudocyesis, but probably not impossible.

      I hope you find some answers. All the best to you! Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Laio 7 years ago

      i am in my 7th week of pseydocyesis, and it is a very hard thing. I am a mom of a five year old, i ahve a wonderfull man in my life who has a four year old son himself. we plan to get married and want children of our own... so to find out that i was puking, cramping and smelling the dog poop two houses down for no reason was heart wrenching, it also made us relize how babd we wanted it to be true... i am finding this so interesting as i research it... thanks so much for putting this somewhere... where women like me can get some answers to help. does any one know if you can actually get pregnant while you are in the middle of a psedicyesis?

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Yup... thanks for commenting, Otis!

    • profile image

      Otis Hoser 8 years ago

      spooky stuff...

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Yes, Shil, it really is bizarre. I'm glad you learnt something new. Learning new things is always fun. Thank you so much for voting up and rating... and commenting! I love when people comment!

    • Shil1978 profile image

      Shil1978 8 years ago

      Kim, I learnt something new here. Its really bizarre. Never knew something like this exists too. Thanks for educating me! Really astonishing!! Voted up and rated!!

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      It IS mind-baffling, isn't it, Marvalous? Oh and Thank you!

    • marvalousnj profile image

      marvalousnj 8 years ago from Central Jersey USA

      Quite an interesting article, it baffles my mind to think that your mind can have so much control on whats going on in your body!!

      Oh... CONGRATULATIONS on you success in hubnuggets. You are a good and engaging writer!

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Hi billyaustindillon,

      Yeah, those stories about people not knowing they were pregnancy until they going to labour boggles my mind too. And so does phantom pregnancies. I'm sure it's very tough to deal with.

      Thank you for reading and rating my Hub. And thank you especially for commenting. I appreciate it.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 8 years ago

      Fascinating article, I had heard of those that have a baby and realize they were pregnant which just boggles my mind. This is the other side of the coin and must be very tough mentally to deal with. Rated the hub up and look forward to reading more of your work.


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