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Pseudopregnancy (False Pregnancy) : Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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Pregnancy is usually an exciting time for parents who are expecting a baby. In rare cases, parents, especially women, believe they are pregnant, only to discover that their symptoms were caused not by pregnancy but entirely by other causes. It is called false pregnancy or pseudopregnancy.

This blog is a comprehensive understanding of a false pregnancy, its causes, symptoms, and its treatment. 

What is false pregnancy? 

False pregnancy, also called phantom pregnancy, is when women believe they are expecting a baby but are not carrying it. Women with pseudopregnancy display most pregnancy symptoms, except for an actual fetus. Some men also experience a related phenomenon. It is called couvade, or sympathetic pregnancy. Men may develop many of the same symptoms as pregnant women, including weight gain, backache, and nausea. 

What are the symptoms of a false pregnancy? 

False pregnancy frequently bears a resemblance to pregnancy in every way. However, the baby is not present in a false pregnancy. In every case, women are sure that they are pregnant. The most common physical symptom of false pregnancy is a distended abdomen, similar to a baby bump. The woman’s belly can expand as it does during pregnancy. In a false pregnancy, the abdominal extension does not result from a baby. Instead, doctors believe that gas, fat, faeces, and urine buildup causes it.

The second most common physical symptom is an irregularity in a woman’s menstrual cycle. About 50 to 75 per cent of women who experience a false pregnancy describe the feeling of the baby moving. Many women also describe feeling the baby kick, even though the baby is not present. The other symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from those experienced during pregnancy. They can include the following:

  • Interruption of the menstrual period
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lactation
  • Weight gain
  • Labour pains
  • False labour
  • Increased appetite
  • Enlarged and tender breasts, changes in nipples, and sometimes even milk production
  • Swollen belly
  • Enlargement of the uterus
  • Softening of the cervix

The symptoms can last for a few weeks, nine months, or even years. A small percentage of women with false pregnancies arrive at the doctor’s office or hospital feeling labour pains.

When should women call the doctor?

Women must call the doctor if they have questions or think they may be pregnant.

What are the causes of false pregnancy?

The causes of false pregnancy are currently unknown. However, there are three leading assumptions. Certain mental health professionals believe it is associated with an intense desire or fear of becoming pregnant. It may affect the woman’s endocrine system, which in turn leads to symptoms of pregnancy.

The second theory is associated with fulfilling the wish to get pregnant. Certain mental health professionals believe that when women wish to be pregnant, possibly after suffering multiple miscarriages, infertility, or wanting to get married, they can misinterpret certain changes in their body as a clear sign that they are pregnant.

The third theory is associated with chemical changes in the woman’s nervous system related to depressive disorders. These chemical changes are likely responsible for the symptoms of a false pregnancy.

How is a false pregnancy treated?

If women believe they are pregnant, particularly for many months, it can be very distressing to learn that they are not pregnant. Doctors who deal with women with false pregnancies need to slowly reveal the news to them and offer psychological support, including therapy, to help them recover from their disappointment. Showing proof to women that they are not pregnant is done through imaging techniques such as ultrasound. It is the most successful way doctors can bring a false pregnancy to an end.

False pregnancy is believed not to involve direct physical causes. Therefore, there are no general suggestions for treating them with medication. However, if women are experiencing symptoms such as menstrual irregularity, the doctor can prescribe medication. A false pregnancy likely affects women experiencing psychological instability disproportionately. For this reason, they should be under the care of a psychotherapist to receive treatment.


Women rarely experience a false pregnancy. The symptoms of pregnancy and a false pregnancy can be similar and confusing. However, there is one significant difference in a false pregnancy. The baby is not present because the conception never took place, despite the symptoms suggesting otherwise.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How common is false pregnancy?

The average age of women who experience a false pregnancy is 33. About 30% per cent of women with a false pregnancy have been pregnant at least once before, and more than 66% per cent are married. False pregnancies have become rare in countries with easy access to accurate pregnancy tests. Some cultures associate women’s worth with their ability to conceive, and false pregnancies are seen at higher rates in these places.

2. How is a false pregnancy diagnosed?

To determine if women are experiencing a false pregnancy, the doctor generally assesses their symptoms and conducts a pelvic exam and abdominal ultrasound, the same tests used to feel and visualise the unborn baby in a normal pregnancy.

In a case of false pregnancy, the baby is not seen on the ultrasound, and there is no heartbeat to detect. However, the doctor will sometimes discover some physical changes during pregnancy, including an enlarged uterus and a softened cervix. Urine pregnancy tests will also be negative, except for rare cancers that produce hormones similar to pregnancy.

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