What Are False Pregnancies?

23 February, 2019
The power of the human mind reaches the most unbelievable limits. False pregnancies are an example of this – due to a stimulus in the brain, the body develops symptoms of a real gestation.

False pregnancies, also called pseudocyesis, are a very particular syndrome in which a woman not only thinks she’s expecting a baby but even manifests certain symptoms of being pregnant. Now, how common is this condition? What are the best ways to detect it?

First of all, it’s worth mentioning the data to underline the rarity of false pregnancies. Only 1 in 22 thousand women suffer from false pregnancies. This is an extremely low number, especially if we consider that it can affect any woman between 20 and 40 years old, or even more.

Don’t confuse false pregnancies with the delusion of pregnancy. The second is a pathology in which the woman doesn’t present physical symptoms and is treated with antipsychotics. In a false pregnancy, on the other hand, the woman shows actual signs of pregnancy.

Why do false pregnancies occur?

The appearance of this pathology has changed over time. In past centuries, the role of women in society was almost exclusively having children. Therefore, this was the main focus for many.

Today, however, women’s interests and life goals have changed. As a result, pregnancy isn’t the primary desire or priority of all women.

Possible causes

The most obvious trigger of false pregnancies is the excessive desire to be a mother. Many women even take it as a necessary condition to reaffirm life as a couple or to save a conjugal crisis – the longing for a baby is so great that they end up “making it” happen.

What Are False Pregnancies?

Likewise, social or family pressure can also influence false pregnancies. Other possible triggers include:

  • Infertility: women who have complications getting pregnant can become obsessed with the issue and have a false pregnancy. It can also happen to those who have suffered one or several miscarriages.
  • Early menopause: the hormonal dysregulation that occurs here, which implies the impossibility of having another baby, is also a possible cause.
  • Fear of getting pregnant: it’s more common in young women, who are usually inexperienced in sexual relationships.
  • Depression: feelings of loneliness or great emotional stress can cause this disorder.
  • Sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence: false pregnancies can appear as scars of these traumatic experiences.

“The most important trigger of false pregnancies is the excessive desire to be a mother.”

Symptoms of false pregnancies

The symptomatology of false pregnancies is identical to that of a healthy pregnancy. It’s so striking because the body truly ends up responding to the woman’s thoughts, even though no baby is forming in the uterus.

Among the most apparent signs of false pregnancies, we can highlight the following:

  • Lack of ovulation: as if it were a healthy pregnancy, menstruation is suspended in the false pregnancy; it’s due to the brain suspending or decreasing the production of hormones that regulate this process.
  • Increase in breast size: the breasts, in turn, undergo changes in their pigmentation and even begin to produce colostrum. This is caused by an increase in prolactin and progesterone.
  • Nausea, heartburn, vomiting, and backaches, which are typical signs of pregnancy.
  • Softening of the uterus.
  • Belly growth and weight gain: this is perhaps the most striking symptom. The only difference with a real pregnancy is that the bellybutton doesn’t invert into an “outie.”
  • Also, as a result of an increase in gonadotropin, pregnancy tests can give positive results in the case of false pregnancies.
What Are False Pregnancies?

How to treat false pregnancies

The most common way to detect a false pregnancy is through ultrasound. With this, it’s possible to see that there is no fetus growing and there are no signs of a fetal heartbeat. Professionals will be able to confirm that it’s not a real pregnancy.

Now, the problem usually lies in how to communicate it to the woman. We must remember that, precisely, one of the roots of this condition may be their excessive desire to have a baby.

Because of that, delicacy and a gentle touch are most important. In fact, many doctors decide to talk with the partner first or other relatives before taking any action.

As for the woman herself, this disorder usually doesn’t require medical treatment, but it does require psychological treatment.

In general, we recommend that women overcome this condition with the assistance of a professional in order to avoid future depressive or anxiety symptoms.

Finally, it’s worth noting that undergoing a false pregnancy in no way precludes women from becoming pregnant in the future. Of course, it’s not a sign of dementia or mental disability either.

  1. Campos, S. J. & Link, D. Pseudocyesis. J. Nurse Pract. (2016). doi:10.1016/j.nurpra.2016.03.009
  2. Dafallah, S. E. Pseudocyesis and infertility. Saudi Med. J. (2004).