What is a phantom pregnancy

As we have already briefly discussed in our article about cryptic pregnancy, another form of an abnormal pregnancy is phantom pregnancy, in which a woman believes that she is pregnant despite all the evidence, and can actually develop pregnancy symptoms. This is a rare condition nowadays, but one that still fascinated the medical community. It can range in severity, with some women developing a full set of pregnancy-related physiological changes without the presence of a baby. 

phantom pregnncy

A phantom pregnancy, also known in the medical community as pseudocyesis, or false pregnancy, has baffled doctors for centuries. In fact, documentation of false pregnancies exists as early as the times of Hippocrates so it is not new in any way. Pseudocyesis can manifest itself in people of different ages, with many documented cases list the ages from 6 y.o girls, to women in their late seventies. Interestingly, some men have also claimed to experience some of the symptoms. 

It would be safe to assume that the main causes behind the condition are connected with the person’s uncontrollable urge and desire to be pregnant. It is, then, logical that people with pseudocyesis are under psychological care as this is mainly a case of the mind affected the body in a very profound way. 

Phantom Pregnancy Symptoms

As with a normal pregnancy, women experiencing pseudocyesis can develop all the regular pregnancy-related symptoms. One of the most common ones is an irregular menstrual cycle, and missed periods. As this is the first sign of any pregnancy, a woman might start to believe that she is pregnant at this point. Many women also report feeling the baby move, although, this is, once again, all in their minds, as there is no baby. This should not be confused with phantom kicks after pregnancy, which is a feeling of the baby’s activities after delivery – a remnant of the pregnancy in the mind that fades shortly after. 

Another common symptom is a belly bump, which creates a visual affirmation that the woman is pregnant. However, this may be a result of gas, feces, urine of fat buildup. None of it is particularly healthy, thus seeking treatment is vital. 

Other common pregnancy symptoms are present in false pregnancies:

  • Morning sickness
  • Enlargement of the uterus
  • Labor pains
  • Tender breasts
  • Increased appetite
  • And even false labor


As with many psychological disorders, no one specific reason exists that is directly related to false pregnancies. Rather, it a result of several factors, all of which are a result of a mind believing that the body is pregnant, and causing the endocrine system to react accordingly. 

One theory is based on the powerful desire or fear of the woman to get pregnant. Women in these situations are mentally unstable and the mind triggers the physiological changes that would normally occur with true pregnancies. 

Similarly, the second theory also proposes that the woman’s desire to get pregnant as a result of multiple pregnancy losses, desire to maintain a partner in this way, or difficulty getting pregnant causes the hormonal changes to occur. 

Finally, depression and other similar psychological conditions have been theorized to possess the power to kickstart the pregnancy-related mechanism of the body.


So physical treatment can be prescribed for pseudocyesis. However, the biggest help a woman in this situation can get is to get proof that will convince her that she is indeed not pregnant. This might be an ultrasound, pregnancy test, etc. In general, this is a psychological condition, and as such, psychological help must be sought in order to address the underlying issues. 

A home pregnancy test done the right way will also help reassure the woman that no pregnancy exists. 

In cultures and countries where immense pressure is put upon a woman to get pregnant after marriage, women tend to experience false pregnancies more often. This relates to the thinking that the fear and anxiety around pregnancy causes the woman’s body to start experiencing pregnancy symptoms, without the actual pregnancy. If a couple is having trouble conceiving, it might be a good idea to start the investigation into the causes of that infertility, rather than mounting the pressure on women.

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