Phantom pregnancy: truth about false pregnancy (pseudocyesis)

A guide

February 12 2019

What is a phantom pregnancy?
A ‘Phantom Pregnancy’ is when a woman (or even a man) experiences the symptoms of pregnancy without actually conceiving a baby. The false alarm is so convincing that it has its own medical name, pseudocyesis, coming from the Greek ‘pseudes’ meaning false, and ‘kyesis’ meaning pregnant. Although it is a rare condition, it can last for weeks or months, often nine months like a true pregnancy. Some women will have the symptoms of pseudocyesis for years.

It’s not just humans who suffer false pregnancy, mice and dogs can experience this condition. Some will witness their dog preparing a nest or adopting a surrogate toy to nurture.

Phantom pregnancy symptoms
Just like a real pregnancy, women will experience weight gain particularly around the belly, morning sickness, an absence of periods, enlargement of breasts, irritability, mood swings and backaches. Basically, all the signs of being pregnant without carrying a baby. There have also been even stranger, although rare, cases of phantom pregnancies influencing the endocrine system so that the body starts secreting pregnancy hormones, thus showing up positive on a home pregnancy test.

Getty images

Getty images

What causes phantom pregnancy?
In most cases finding out why pseudocyesis occurs isn’t easily identifiable. It can be psychological, usually due to a strong desire to fall pregnant, often in women who have miscarried, experienced birth trauma or have had trouble conceiving. In some cases can be present in those who have a history of abuse, depression or anxiety.

The other theory is that phantom pregnancy is caused by chemical changes in the nervous system associated with some depressive disorders that could trigger these symptoms.

How to stop a phantom pregnancy
There are no specific treatments or ways to stop a phantom pregnancy, however, like any psychological or emotional illness, seeking medical help or counseling can help. It is normal to feel upset when you discover your pregnancy symptoms are a false alarm.

Getty images

Getty images

Phantom kicks
Are you feeling movement in the stomach, but are sure you’re not pregnant? You may be experiencing phantom kicks which can often occur after you have given birth. This can come as quite a shock to those who aren’t expecting another bun in the oven, but rest assured it is normal!

This fluttering sensation is due to your uterus contracting in the months post-partum. The uterus takes several months to get back to its previous state and during this time some women will feel stomach spasms or movement in their lower abdomen. Sometimes these moving sensations have always been there but we are much more mindful of the changes occurring in our body after being pregnant.

So, if it feels like a baby is kicking but you know you’re not pregnant, just enjoy this gentle reminder of your wonderful journey.

How common is phantom pregnancy?
It can happen at any time in a woman or man’s lifetime, but experts say pseudocyesis is most common in women aged around 33 years, and around a third of these women have had a baby previously.

For men, false pregnancy usually occurs when their partner is carrying a child and this is adorably called a ‘sympathetic pregnancy’. These men have been known to experience nausea, weight gain, mood swings and bloating, making the journey a little more fair, we say!