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How can you be pregnant and not know it? Cryptic pregnancy explained

While not knowing you're pregnant until birth is rare, an expert explains how this can happen.
/ Source: TODAY

In early August, Dannette Giltz felt sharp pains in her back and sides and thought she had kidney stones. While she tried coping, the pain was too debilitating. She laid in bed, crying because it hurt even to breathe, she shared on Facebook.

Finally, the Sturgis, South Dakota woman went to urgent care, where she got an unexpected diagnosis: She was pregnant. Doctors first told her she was carrying twins. After she was transferred to the hospital she started to go into labor and doctors delivered not two but three babies by Cesarean section. Giltz carried the triplets, two girls and a boy, to 34 weeks and had no clue she was pregnant, according to the Associated Press.

But how can someone be pregnant with three babies to nearly full term without a hint that something’s different?

“The fact that she didn’t feel any symptoms, didn’t have any weight gain, didn’t feel any movement and didn’t have terrible reflux is fascinating,” Dr. Christine Greves, an OB-GYN at the center for Obstetrics and Gynecology at Orlando Health, who didn’t treat Giltz, told TODAY Parents. “A triplet pregnancy, for her to make it 34 weeks, spontaneously achieved, is unheard of.”

Pregnancies where the mother doesn’t know she is pregnant, called cryptic pregnancies, are rare, about 1 and 2,500 births, Greves said. What’s more, spontaneous triplet pregnancies are even more unusual, accounting for 1 out of 6,000 to 1 out of 8,000 births. Triplet (or more multiple) births make up 101.6 for every 100,000 births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but that number increased since in-vitro fertilization (IVF) became more popular. Older women are more likely to have natural multiple births, though. Greves says she’s no statistician but these are unlikely odds.

“It is probably easier to win the lottery than for this to ever happen again,” she said.

Experts know little about cryptic pregnancy. Many women report that their periods never stopped and they do not gain any weight. While Greves said some women gain very little weight during pregnancy, bleeding throughout a pregnancy is not a period, just spotting. Still, she feels surprised that with multiple births Giltz didn’t notice a change in weight.

“More babies equals more weight,” she said. “To not gain weight with a triplet pregnancy is very odd because part of the weight gain in pregnancy is fluid because your body is trying to get ready for the delivery.”

When hearing about cryptic pregnancy, many wonder what the mom thought happened as the baby moved. But Greves said not all babies move and women with anterior placentas, those that are attached to the front of the uterus, are less able to tell their babies are moving.

“Sometimes you don’t feel it as much,” she said.

Women with histories of stomach or digestion problems might also think that some cramping and gas is just normal and wouldn’t suspect pregnancy as the cause.

It’s not unusual, though, for women to have unexpected pregnancies prior to 20 weeks. In some cases women who have irregular periods and ovulation might believe they cannot get pregnant. But that’s not true. They still ovulate, it’s just hard to predict when.

“Just because you’re not having a period regularly doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant,” Greves said.

She added that this is a reminder to have annual exams with an OB-GYN and other providers.

“Very rarely events like this happen and if there is anything that is not feeling right about your body or anything you noticed that changed go seek medical attention,” she said.

Giltz and her husband already have two children so this wasn’t her first time being pregnant. She told KOTA TV she felt as stunned as anyone.

“You don’t ever see triplets being conceived naturally, let alone going 34 weeks without knowing. So, everyone’s like I can’t believe it. I’m like ‘We’re still in shock, trust me,’” she said. “It’s crazy.”