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By Dr Joe Kabyemela, MD

There are two distinct pregnancy experiences that aren’t well known but which are quite significant phenomena with potential implications going beyond the confines of pregnancy and childbirth. These are Phantom pregnancy (pseudocyesis) and concealed pregnancy.

Phantom Pregnancy

A woman with phantom pregnancy exhibits all or most of the usual pregnancy signs and symptoms. These would include lethargy, nausea and vomiting, breast engorgement, increasing abdominal size and of-course absence of menstrual periods.Queen Mary 1 and phantom pregnancy

Phantom pregnancy which is also medically termed ‘Pseudocyesis’ (Greek: pseudes[false] and kyesis [pregnancy])is not a new phenomenon. The most famous historical sufferer was probably Queen Mary I, the daughter of King Henry VIII and ruler of England in the mid-16th century. Even Hippocrates ‘The Father of Medicine’ described cases of pseudocyesis all those centuries ago.

Causes of Phantom Pregnancy

Nobody knows for sure what causes phantom pregnancy. However, one thing binds sufferers together: The extreme desire to bear a child. Contrary to some descriptions, Phantom Pregnancy is not the same as ‘feigned pregnancy’. There is one important difference: Women with phantom pregnancy are absolutely convinced that they are pregnant.

Even a negative pregnancy test and a negative ultrasound scan are not sufficient to shake their belief. They are not trying to deceive anybody and will describe all the common experiences of a pregnant woman including fetal movements.

Feigned pregnancy merely refers to women who set out to deceive others that they are pregnant for a variety of reasons. This includes the women criminals who put out an elaborate plan, the end of which is meant to be the stealing of infants from other women and passing them off as their own newborns after a well demonstrated ‘pregnancy’. That is not Phantom pregnancy.

True phantom pregnancy is thought to have a deep psychological basis, strong enough to bring about the hormonal changes which cause the display of the physical features such as absence of periods, breast engorgement and abdominal swelling which is merely gaseous distension of the bowel.

Treating Phantom Pregnancy

Phantom pregnancy is quite uncommon. However, women who suffer from this do require sympathetic specialised counselling by a psychotherapist. It is a condition that affects women of any age even though it is more common for women in their 30s and 40s. It could and often does affect women who already have children.

Concealed Pregnancy: Next Page

Last update: March 30, 2013

Phantom Pregnancy and Concealed Pregnancy

Queen Mary I  who ruled England  in 1553 to 1558 was never to know a true pregnancy. In November 1554 she had a thanksgiving service for what turned out to be one of her two phantom pregnancies