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Understanding phantom pregnancies and what causes them

By Winnie Mabel September 28th, 2023 2 min read

For many women across the world, becoming a mother is one of their greatest life achievement. Be it via natural conception, In vitro fertilizations, surrogacy or adoption, many women dream of holding their own bundle of joy and loving it unconditionally.

While yearning and unconditional love are just the pull factors for having babies, some women chose to become mothers out of maternal instinct, yearning for a deep sense of meaning and satisfaction out of live, infinite companionship, emotional and psychological growth as well as out of love and partnership.

And so, many women embark on the nine month journey, watching their tummy bulge as the foetus grows to maturity. Many enjoy the three trimesters, the walking like a duck and baby kicks while others dread the morning sickness but keep their eyes on the bigger picture. A live, healthy baby at the end of 9 months.

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But it is not the same for many other women when they find out that they have phantom pregnancies. According to the Cleveland Clinic, phantom pregnancy is when a woman thinks she is pregnant when they actually aren’t.

They will portray all the signs and symptoms of carrying a pregnancy but ultimately, there is no baby in the womb at all.

“With pseudocyesis (phantom pregnancies), a person has pregnancy symptoms and feels pregnant. However, pregnancy tests and ultrasounds confirm they aren’t physically pregnant, and no fetus is growing in their uterus. It’s a rare condition, and healthcare providers believe psychological and hormonal factors play a role in causing it,” said the Cleveland Clinic.

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A person with a phantom pregnancy will experience symptoms such as breast tenderness, enlarged tummy, missed menstrual periods, weight gain, morning sickness, food cravings and aversions as well as false labor contractions.

Some women, according to the Cleveland Clinic, will report feeling a fetus moving in their uterus,  just like a woman with an actual pregnancy.

The clinic also found that phantom pregnancies are rare and occur one to six times per 22,000 births among females ages 16-39. Cleveland Clinic went on to list some reasons of what causes phantom pregnancy as listed below:

  1. Psychological factors and hormonal changes whereby one has a strong desire to become pregnant and the body responds by impacting hormones related to pregnancy.
  2. Somatic symptom disorder where a person feels significantly distressed about physical symptoms and has abnormal feelings and behaviors in response to them. “The physical symptoms may be due to a medical condition or have no clear cause.” People with this disorder are often unaware of their underlying mental health condition and believe they have serious physical ailments.
  3. Multiple miscarriages
  4. The loss of a child
  5. Infertility issues
  6. Emotional trauma

Upon ultrasound and pelvic examinations, unfortunately, women enduring phantom pregnancies will receive negative pregnancy test results.

Such a patient is then recommended for phycological therapy to convince them that they are not pregnant and also receive treatment to treat the symptoms that mimicked those of a real pregnancy.

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