Understanding False Pregnancy

You read about it all the time: a woman goes into the doctor’s office with stomach cramping, only to discover that she’s pregnant. While these cases don’t actually happen that often, when they do occur they’re usually newsworthy.

There’s a different condition, though, known as a false pregnancy. A woman in this condition believes she’s pregnant – often in the late stages of pregnancy – but actually isn’t. Also known as “pseudocyesis,” this condition affects a small number of women.

Here are some quick facts about false pregnancy that you should know:

  • Doctors have reported cases of women that believe they are late in their pregnancy – usually the late third trimester – but aren’t pregnant.
  • Women with this condition may actually have pregnancy symptoms such as elevated pregnancy hormones, swelling breasts and more. The only “symptom” missing is the baby’s heartbeat or the ability to detect the baby with an ultrasound.
  • Experts believe these symptoms of false pregnancy are related to the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland helps a woman’s body regulate her menstrual cycles as well as the secretion of milk.
  • A false pregnancy by itself doesn’t cause any physical harm. The only risks involved are when a woman takes drastic measures or a physician makes a grave error and decides to do an emergency c-section.
  • Doctors sometimes can make these mistakes. One woman in North Carolina spent two days in the hospital trying to have labor induced. Two doctors recommended a c-section, which wound up actually being performed.
  • We don’t really know how common a false pregnancy is. We do know that it’s usually observed in women between the ages of 20 and 39, and that racial, economic and social factors don’t seem to play a role. The only research we currently have is based on case studies, rather than on randomized trials.
  • Humans aren’t the only mammals to experience a false pregnancy; similar behaviors have been observed in dogs, for example.
  • Some historians believe that Mary Tudor suffered from this condition.



So, what about you? Have you ever experienced anything like this, or known someone else who had a false pregnancy?
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