This situation is quite common and can be a psychological problem.
Giving birth is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful moments for most women. Having the ability to bring a new life into the world after spending nine months sheltering it inside is something that fills every mother who wishes to be one with happiness.
But sometimes, the desire to want to be a mother is so strong that, even without being a mother, the body begins to show the symptoms of a real pregnancy. This makes the woman herself think she is pregnant, with all that that implies.
These types of situations are psychological pregnancies, a rare but very interesting phenomenon that this article is going to address. Let’s see what it is, what its symptoms are, what differentiates it from a real pregnancy and how it should be treated.
Psychological pregnancy, what is it about?
Psychological pregnancy is the situation that occurs when a woman believes that she is pregnant without being pregnant, because she is manifesting some objective symptoms of being in a state. They are also called phantom pregnancies or pseudociesis, of “pseudo”, “false” and “cesis”, “gestation”.
Although some hypotheses have been considered as to why this occurs, the truth is that it is not entirely clear why these types of false pregnancies occur in the human species. One of the possible explanations that has been raised is that, when you have a very strong desire to be a mother, the mind ends up influencing the body, causing a whole series of symptoms typical of pregnancy.
The physical reactions that are manifested by mental causes are called psychosomatic reactions, therefore, psychological pregnancies are sets of psychosomatic symptoms. That is why gynecology specialists need to address these types of cases very clearly and deeply, since, despite no real pregnancy, the body behaves as if there really were one.
As we have already said, in psychological pregnancy the woman believes that she is really carrying a baby, and may manifest some objective symptoms that would indicate, at first glance, that she is indeed pregnant.
People who are going through a pseudocyesis, like real pregnant women, undergo hormonal changes. Luteinizing hormones (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) decrease, causing ovulation to stop and the menstrual cycle to stop.
On the other hand, prolactin and progesterone levels rise, which are behind several symptoms also typical of real pregnancy. The progesterone fatigue and sleepiness causes, while prolactin is responsible for that secrete breast milk, although there is a baby that feed it.
There are some digestive disorders, such as constipation, nausea and vomiting, which can occur at any time of the day. In addition to suffering from cravings and a greater sensitivity to certain smells and tastes.
One of the symptoms that contribute to a woman thinking that she is really pregnant is that the belly and breasts grow, the latter becoming especially sensitive. To this is added the fact of feeling movement inside the uterus, as if there was really a fetus forming, and having the sensation that it is kicking.
Other symptoms experienced by women with a phantom pregnancy that are common in real pregnancies are dizziness, an enlarged uterus and softening of the cervix, weight gain, and, in some cases, elevated gonadotropin levels.
When the differential diagnosis is made, that is, to find out if it really is a real pregnancy or, if not, a pseudocyesis, there are two quite illuminating indicators. On the one hand, there is the fact that the navel is not facing outwards and, on the other, that the weight gain is higher than expected in a normal pregnancy.
However, what definitively clarifies that it is a fictitious pregnancy are negative pregnancy tests and ultrasounds in which no fetus has been found.
There are several causes that can explain why the woman thinks she is really pregnant. At the end of the day, this type of situation manifests itself in a psychosomatic way, that is, the mind has generated physical symptoms in the woman’s body.
One of the most common causes is the woman’s desire to get pregnant but having trouble getting it. This situation usually occurs in those women who have had fertility problems, a history of multiple abortions or, in the most serious cases, the loss of a newborn child. Living in a sexist environment in which being a mother is seen as satisfying the life goal of every woman also favors fictitious pregnancies.
Another cause is that the woman is about to enter menopause, but is afraid of this new period and creates a whole repertoire of stereotypical beliefs in this regard, such as the loss of youth and “productivity”.
There are also cases of ghost pregnancies in those women who fear staying pregnant. Although this may seem counterintuitive, the truth is that this can occur frequently in young girls who have just started their sexual life and come from conservative families.
In couples where there are problems, having a child is sometimes seen as the solution. This can encourage the woman to believe that she has indeed become pregnant and that the tension with her boyfriend or husband is over. Getting pregnant can also be seen as the reason why the couple will spend more time with the woman, receiving more attention and, if it had to happen, delaying the breakup.
Telling a woman that she is not pregnant when she has believed otherwise for months is not an easy task. It requires a high degree of delicacy and the collaboration of the couple.
As already mentioned, the causes behind suffering a psychological pregnancy can be varied and the woman have a repertoire of beliefs and desires that “justify” her pregnancy. For this reason, it is necessary to show her that she is not really in a state, but to do it as gently as possible to avoid emotional problems when receiving the upset.
Thanks to the advancement of technology, especially applied in the field of medicine, it is possible to demonstrate very objectively that a woman is not pregnant. As we have already said, ultrasound scans and pregnancy tests, among other techniques, make it possible to show that you are not healthy. Sometimes this is enough to end pseudocyesis, and the symptoms disappear over time.
However, other women do not quite believe it, either because they have believed the lie for a long time or because they want so much to have a baby that they refuse to admit reality.
The first professional the woman will have seen will have been her gynecologist, who must make sure to show all the objective tests that confirm that there is no pregnancy and, if possible, elucidate where this case comes from. Although finding out the causes that have led to this situation is the task of the psychologist, it is not recommended to refer the patient immediately, since a high reluctance can be generated when thinking that he has a mental disorder.
When it is time to go to a mental health professional, the psychologist will be in charge of following a treatment for the woman, see to what extent accepting the news has affected her state of mind and inquire about the causes that have led to this phantom pregnancy.
If the woman, after all the efforts of the gynecologist, doctor and psychologist, cannot understand the real situation, it is possible that the psychological pregnancy is only the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem, and she is facing a case of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder or, in more severe cases, a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia.
Pregnancy in men?
As surprising as it may seem, in the same way that there are women who without being pregnant show symptoms of pregnancy, there are men who, despite the biological impossibility of their sex, also present physical signs of pregnancy.
This is called Couvade syndrome, coming from the French word “couver” which means “to hatch.”
It is not that the man thinks he is pregnant, however, he manifests the same symptoms as his boyfriend or wife who is really in condition. If she vomits, he does too; If she has a craving, he also wants to eat; And if she gains weight, so does he.
An attempt has been made to find out a little more about this syndrome. It is believed that, in normal pregnancies, 10% of men have Couvade syndrome, while the percentage increases to 25 in the case of a problem pregnancy.
The possibility of this happening has been considered because the man is very involved in the pregnancy process that the woman is doing, although it could also be due to a need to draw attention that is now focused on his partner. Another cause that could be behind this is something more serious, such as a personality disorder in men.
Symptoms in men are very similar to those of a normal pregnancy, with mood swings, weight gain and abdominal swelling as well as gastric problems. They all disappear the moment the woman gives birth.
- Tarín, JJ; Hermenegildo, C .; García-Pérez, MA; Cano, A. (2013). Endocrinology and physiology of pseudocyesis’. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 11 (39).
- Carbary, LJ (1982). Unisex false pregnancy ». Journal of Nursing Care 15 (4): 18-21.