Are surprise babies really a thing?

Some women can go into labour without even realising they're pregnant

Practical Parenting Parenting Commentator / July 23 2018

We’ve all heard the stories – the woman turning up to hospital with stomach pains only to realise she’s in labour, or the middle-aged mum presuming the loss of her periods is due to menopause when, in fact, she’s expecting!

It sounds unbelievable, but one in 450 women are unaware they’re pregnant until they’re at 20 weeks, while one in 2500 don’t realise they’re pregnant until they’re in labour!

In the UK a woman named Klara Dollan gave birth to her baby Amelia on the first day of a new job, only realising she was about to become a mum when her baby’s head began to crown.

"I had this extremely painful urge to push. That’s when the baby’s head came out," she says.

At 23, Klara is typical of a group of women who experience ‘cryptic pregnancies’, defined as a pregnancy that goes under the radar. The condition is most common in young women who’ve never been pregnant, or women who have gone through the menopause and believe they don’t need contraception.

Irregular periods, lack of pregnancy symptoms, a small foetus or being on weight-affecting medication can mask the pregnancy.

And, says Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, a spokesperson for the UK’s Royal College of General Practitioners, women can experience light bleeding, which disguises the pregnancy.

Women can fall pregnant while on the Pill or, as in Klara’s case, discover the Pill has been ineffective due to diarrhoea or vomiting.

Women who’ve had cryptic pregnancies are at risk of postnatal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and would not have had the benefit of antenatal care or screening for abnormalities.

That said, many adjust well, like Klara, who laughs that her life changed with ‘one long, hard push’.

I grew up in New Zealand, moved to London in my early 20s to work on British newspapers then moved to Australia when I was pregnant with my first child. I write a newspaper column, celebrity interviews and a parenting page. I also do TV and radio commentary, podcasting and host corporate events. I’ve also published a book on parenting, The Smallest Things. However, my greatest role ­­– and the one I’m most proud of – is parenting my daughters, Eliza and Lilibelle, who are 17 and 14.