Monday, January 12, 2009

Phantom Baby

My younger sister’s belly is bloomin with her first baby! Congratulations Megan!! She called me the other day with a story that has inspired this post. She went for her first dr. appointment and was eagerly anticipating the first dopler sounds of her little baby's heart beat. The dr. glopped on the warm gel and proceeded to move the dopler device around her lower abdomen, a second pass, then a third and there was no sound. My sister started to feel nervous and a little scared. Thoughts started racing through her mind. She had heard of "phantom" pregnancies and wondered if she had dreamed up the whole pregnancy thing. Maybe she never really had been pregnant! Her eyes welled and she tried not to get too worried unnecessarily. The dr. explained it was still early and that dopler equipment isn't always the greatest. The dr. could see that my sister was feeling upset and offered to use the sonogram to double check that everything was fine.
Relived, my sister and her husband got to see their bouncing (literally) little baby jumping and floating around happy as could be through the use of the sonogram. Now there was nothing left but smiles on their faces. A weight lifted they left the doctor's office floating a little bit off the ground with the undoubtable knowledge their family was beginning.

So many times during pregnancy women feel anxiety of some kind or other regarding the health of their baby or in my sister’s case if there even is a baby! This is perfectly normal. Rest assured most of the time the worries are for nothing and everything turns out just fine. However, there is that rare case and my sister’s question about whether or not she was really even pregnant after weeks of morning sickness and a positive pregnancy test sparked my interest.

Phantom pregnancy, false pregnancy, hysterical pregnancy or the fancy medical word Pseudocyesis is a real phenomenon that does occur, although rarely. Approximately 1 to 6 cases are reported out of 22, 000 births. Interestingly enough, this is not just a human phenomenon and also occurs in many animal species! Symptoms are just the same as a typical pregnancy:

-cessation of menstrual periods
-enlarged or swollen breasts
-morning sickness
-sometimes even a positive pregnancy test (however this is more rare)
-enlarged abdomen

What is missing is the sound of a fetal heart beat and fetus.

One of the most interesting and known stories regarding a phantom pregnancy is that of Queen Mary (1553-1558 A.D.). She desperately wanted to become pregnant and give birth to a male heir to please her husband King Philip. After a long period of not conceiving, Mary finally did present symptoms of being pregnant. Everyone was overjoyed! Unfortunately, Mary never really was pregnant. In addition, Mary’s case of phantom pregnancy went to the extreme. While most cases do not go to full term Mary’s went even further. When weeks passed her due date it became obvious there was no actual baby. She was devastated. To top it off, she had a second phantom pregnancy this time only lasting a few months before her symptoms dissipated.

Other stories include women going into an actual labor with water breaking and everything only to deliver no baby. Today, because of modern medicine the condition is generally caught within a few weeks when women begin going to their prenatal doctor visits.

You may be wondering what causes a phantom pregnancy? This is the interesting part! But what is most commonly to blame is a mind, body connection. For some reason the mind makes the body pregnant so to speak. Doctors and researchers can not be definitive on this point because there are few test subjects to work with. Still, most believe that hormone levels and hormone changes occurring due to extreme stress such as Queen Mary was under to produce an heir or an extreme trauma causing depression are the source.

Those that are at most risk are:

· Women in their late 30’s or early 40’s that have struggled for years with fertility problems.
· Women who are not emotionally unstable, but that are extremely emotional in regards to pregnancy.
· Women that have suffered miscarriage or that have lost a child.

If you want to read up more on this fascinating phenomenon, check out the following sites:

or read the New York Times article at

If you are pregnant and now are now thinking, “Oh my gosh, am I having a phantom pregnancy?” I would say most likely no. This is very rare. If you have had a positive pregnancy test it is even less likely you are experiencing this phenomenon and if you are still worried, you will know for sure by that first doctor’s visit when you hear the sweet tune of your little one’s heart beat.


  1. theres a women at my job who thinks she pregant but she went to the doctor and the said she is not pregant but she tells us her due date is in dec she want to feel her belly she said to fell the baby move im getting very worried now cause they ran test on her and she not what do we do

    signed very worried

  2. We're all crazy. That's the problem. All these people who abuse kids and other sick stuff get to have kids.But people like us don't get that option. fukk life.

  3. I am having a phantom pregnancy and it is the most heartbreaking, embarrassing, and confusing thing to go through. I am often afraid that I am just loosing it all together and maybe I should check myself into a Mental Hospital. I never thought my mind could be so strong to fool my body into what I desire the most. Now I just want it to stop so I can return to the normal me and never look back. I wish there were more studies done on this subject, I would gladly sign up for it...Rosepetals is right as well the people that should never reproduce have no problem at all, but we that would actually love them and take care of them struggle and some never become sad!

  4. I am having a phantom the preg test neg, Dr. wont do a bloodtest or ultrasound for heartbeat. I in turn bought a hand held device and it has the sound of a heartbeat that registars in the baby heart rate range. I can feel it moving and one day BF put his hand where the uterus and overy on the right side of the body. Ran his is up towards and the stopped and tapped. The phantom baby followed an then tapped right under his hand. Three ;years now.